“Pink Slime” Manufacturer Seeks to Depose Me, My Response

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 8.04.19 AMBack in September, Beef Products Inc. (BPI), the manufacturer of “lean, finely textured beef” (LFTB, also known as “pink slime”), served me with a subpoena in connection with its pending defamation lawsuit in South Dakota state court.  Specifically, BPI was seeking all of my confidential communications in 2012 with the defendants in the case, including employees of ABC News and the two former USDA microbiologists who first expressed concern about the meat filler in private emails later made public by the New York Times.

I wasn’t the only writer to be served by BPI; as a July, 2014 Associated Press story made clear (“Five Food Writers Subpoenaed in Pink Slime Lawsuit“), the company cast a wide net in its search for documents.  And the AP story doesn’t provide the entire list of the journalists and activists who were actually subpoenaed.

At that time, I declined to turn over my documents on the grounds that I’m protected from doing so by Texas’s “shield law,” a statute giving journalists a qualified privilege against disclosure of their material in cases like this.  After asserting this defense in a letter to BPI’s counsel, I heard nothing more.

Earlier this month, however, I was served with a second subpoena seeking my deposition in the case. Once again, I’m asserting the journalist’s privilege afforded to me by my state’s shield law and this time my attorney (better known as “Mr. TLT”) has filed a formal motion in Texas state court seeking to quash the subpoena.

I’m taking this position for the reasons discussed in my prior post, “Standing Up for Citizen Journalism.” Unlike journalists working for established news outlets, solo bloggers and other “citizen journalists” aren’t insulated by their employers’ paid legal counsel and corporate insurance policies.  Yet we, too, often devote considerable time and effort to investigate and write about matters of public concern.  Our voices and valuable contributions to these discussions will be lost if every time we take on a potentially controversial topic, we have to fear the prospect of subpoenas and legal bills.

When the court rules on my motion, I’ll of course let you know here.

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Celebrating Valentine’s Day with “No One Eats Alone”

Love Healthy

As I mentioned last week, I’m so pleased to be participating in this year’s #LoveHealthy campaign, created by blogger Allison Howe (Don’t Panic Mom) to promote alternative, healthy ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I was assigned today, February 13th, for my #LoveHealthy post, which also happens to be “No One Eats Alone” Day.  And I couldn’t think of a nicer subject to write about in connection with a holiday commemorating love and friendship.

No One Eats Alone Day is a one-year old campaign created by Beyond Differences, an organization dedicated to ending social isolation in middle school and making all teens feel “​included, valued and accepted​ by their peers.”  Schools sign up to participate but the day’s activities are entirely student-led, with support from the organization to help make the event successful and meaningful.

Beyond Differences CEO Laura Talmus
Laura Talmus

Here’s my interview with Laura Talmus, President and Co-Founder of Beyond Differences:

TLT: Is it a coincidence that No One Eats Alone day falls on or near Valentine’s Day?

LT:  No!  Our first National No One Eats Alone (NOEA) Day was on February 14, 2014.  We purposefully selected Valentine’s Day as our theme because it can oftentimes be the one day of the year where having friends and being lonely is most exaggerated – even for school aged children!

TLT:  How has the program grown since last year and how many schools will be participating today?

LT: In our first year we were in about 35 schools.  We were thrilled with those results in that schools from New York to New Orleans from Los Angeles to San Francisco heard about us through social media and a few personal connections.  In preparing for 2015, we set up more of a national field campaign to try and reach more schools.  We’re happy to announce that this year we are already in nearly 600 schools spanning 38 states!

TLT:  I know the day is teen-led — what different sorts of things have teenagers done on NOEA Day?

LT:  We really leave it up to the teens in the local schools to make it their own.  Schools have done everything from themed events to DJ parties to picnics to game days – the key element is to make it fun and allow the teens to meet people they would not normally hang out with.  We like to think that this is an “add water” recipe and we leave it up to our student chefs to determine the best way to bring NOEA to life at their school! 

We have photos from some of the schools last year that are fun to see on our website.  And this year, we should be receiving a lot (!) of video and photos from participating schools all over the country so you can check back on our nooneeatsalone.org website and see what we received! 

TLT:  I know Beyond Differences supplies interested schools with a purple backpack of supplies to help them celebrate the day. What’s in the backpack? 

LT:  The backpacks are lots of fun to ship out and, we hope, for the school to receive and dig into the contents!  In it, we have how-to manuals including how to get local press to cover your school’s NOEA Day event, tips on what to send home to parents, speaker announcements at school, how to organize a club-like series of meetings to plan NOEA Day, etc.  Then, for the day itself, we provide ideas for suggested games, conversation cards the kids can use to mix students up from their usual groups, and lots of other fun swag for the occasion such as NOEA napkins, wristbands, balloons to decorate the area, signage, etc.  We also encourage schools to get in touch with us directly if they have any questions or need any help.

TLT:   Do you feel the program has lasting effects in participating schools, beyond the one day?  

no one eats alone logoLT:  Our goal is to change the culture of middle school. We see this is the first step in that process.  Many of the schools that we are in on a permanent basis started with a no one eats alone day.  Next for us is to continue expanding NOEA Day every year until every middle school in the country hears about us!  We also have year-round curriculum to share for 6th – 8th grade teachers and their students, ideas for student-led community activism, ideas for student-led online activism, and options for participating in overnight leadership retreats, teacher trainings and more.   

TLT:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with TLT readers about NOEA Day?

LT:  The key to creating lasting change in middle schools is to have that change come from the teens themselves.  That’s why Beyond Differences is a student-led movement.  Students listen to each other and our experience is that students want to do the right thing and love being asked to become leaders.  This is a wonderful opportunity for them to see that the school campus belongs to them.  They can make it more socially inclusive so that leaving someone out – no matter what their differences – is just not cool!

* * *

Thanks to Laura Talmus for allowing me to interview her about NOEA Day.  If you’re interested in having your child’s middle school participate next year, you can find information on how to sign up here.

And don’t forget to read the previous #LoveHealthy posts of my fellow participating bloggers, all of which can be found on the #LoveHealthy Facebook page:

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy Valentine’s Day!

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This Valentine’s Day, #LoveHealthy!

Love HealthyIt’s February 4th and that means in just a few days it will be Valentine’s Day, an occasion for love, romance, friendship — and a whole lot of sugar, especially in our kids’ schools!

That’s why I’m glad to be one of the bloggers participating in the #LoveHealthy campaign.  Led by Allison Howe, the blogger behind Don’t Panic Mom, the campaign promotes all kinds of alternative, healthy ways to celebrate the day.

Between now and February 14th, I and some of your other favorite healthy family bloggers will be sharing posts on this theme.  Here’s the line-up:

My post, regarding a really sweet middle school initiative called “No One Eats Alone” will appear the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13th, and Sally’s post is already up on Real Mom Nutrition – “Three Healthy Moves for a Happy Valentine’s Day.”

If you “like” the #LoveHealthy Facebook page you can easily follow all the posts as well as enter giveaways from companies like Applegate, Kids Konserve, and Laptop Lunches.  You can also follow our Pinterest board, which is full of even more fun and healthy ideas.

And, by the way, have any of you noticed that Valentine’s Day candy is coming into stores earlier and earlier every year?  Check out this great post from Dana Woldow in Beyond Chron, in which she examines how the confectionary industry has turned pretty much every holiday into “candy day” —  and makes sure our store shelves are always stocked with the latest seasonal sweets.

Finally, since we’re talking about the impending Valentine’s Day sugar deluge in schools, don’t forget that you can download at any time my totally free, 40-page guide on getting junk food out of your child’s classroom.  The ebook includes links to my all-new, updated Pinterest boards, which include one specifically devoted to healthy Valentine’s celebrations.

#LoveHealthy, people!  :-)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Ex-BPI Employee Sues Me, Jamie Oliver and ABC News Over LFTB Controversy

Yesterday I learned that Bruce Smith, a former environmental health and safety officer at Beef Products Inc., has filed a pro se lawsuit in Nebraska state court relating to last spring’s controversy over BPI’s lean, finely textured beef product.  I’m one of the named defendants, along with ABC News, Jim Avila, Diane Sawyer and Jamie Oliver.  I have not been served with the suit.

In his complaint, Mr. Smith claims to have suffered the negligent infliction of emotional distress due to the loss of his job at BPI last May.  Mr. Smith has also self-published a book entitled Pink Slime Ate My Job, the sale of which he appears to be promoting in connection with his lawsuit.

For the time being, I’ll have no further comment except to say that I’m confident the First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans, including bloggers like myself, against meritless attempts at censorship like this one.  I will vigorously defend my right, and the rights of all of us, to speak out on matters of public importance and to petition the federal government, as I did through Change.org, to change any policy with which we disagree.

My sincere thanks to all of you who’ve already expressed support and/or extended offers of assistance as I prepare to defend myself against this lawsuit.  I’ll keep you posted regarding further developments as warranted.

Before signing off, a reminder that the stringent comments policy I published last spring remains in effect.  Anyone who feels the need to include personal attacks, profanity or anti-semitic sentiments in their responses to this or any other post will not see their comment appear in this forum.  Moreover, all future comments from any sender violating this policy will go directly to my spam filter and I will not see them for moderation.

[Ed. Update: As of 12/19/12, this blog’s comments policy has been updated to indicate that I will summarily block any “commenters using aliases and multiple email addresses to appear to be more than one reader. I will use my reasonable judgment, based on IP addresses and other information, to determine if a commenter is engaging in this practice.”]

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Corn Refiners Association Responds re: Influencing “Mommy Bloggers”

Last week I posted about a scandal brewing in the blogosphere: a group called Mom Central arranged a conference call between the Corn Refiners Association (makers of high fructose corn syrup) and so-called “mommy bloggers” in which the CRA presented its case for the controversial corn sweetener.  I reported that “[m]oms who wrote favorable pieces about HFCS were then rewarded with $50 gift cards,” and I wondered whether these bloggers were complying with the new FTC requirement that they disclose such compensation in their posts.

Yesterday I received this reply from the Corn Refiners Assocation’s Social Media Manager, Therese Pompa:

Bettina,

I would like to clarify a few misperceptions in relation to the educational campaign we conducted with bloggers. We reached out to bloggers to respond to questions and to address the misinformation that exists when it comes to added sugars. The webinar is publicly available at http://www.cornsugar.com/momcentral, so you and your readers can take a look. We also did not reward moms with “favorable pieces” with a $50 gift card. We compensated the bloggers with a $50 gift card for their time, and then they wrote the post in their own voice – we had no requirements or control on what they wrote.

Also to provide clarity to this specific campaign, no word count or links were given. All of the bloggers involved in this campaign gave full disclosure.

If you have any questions in regard to our campaign or high fructose corn syrup, please feel free to reach out to me at tpompa at corn.org.

Thank you,

Therese, Social Media Manager, Corn Refiners Association.

I thanked Ms. Pompa for the information provided, and I regret that I erroneously stated that the bloggers were only paid for favorable posts.  I was also able to track down one “mommy blog” post stemming from the conference call and that author did disclose that she had received a gift card (with no amount stated).

Nonetheless, I still take issue with the whole Mom Central model.  When bloggers are paid by a client about whom they’ll write a post, human nature dictates that few, if any, unfavorable posts are likely to be written.  Moreover, these bloggers are sought out particularly because they’re trusted by their readers, so even the gift card disclosure may not induce the skepticism that might be warranted in this sort of situation.

I want to be clear that I’m not opining either way on the HFCS question itself.  There’s a lot of conflicting information out there on whether the sweetener is any worse than other sugars, and I’m as confused as anyone.  But if a blogger I liked and trusted had written a post espousing all of the CRA’s talking points, I would likely believe them.

And that seems wrong to me, given all that transpired behind the scenes.