Monday, April 4, 2011

BEWARE OF AMISH (labels): The Anatomy of a Marketing Deception

Read original article HERE

“Not only is Amish food not humane -- it’s not even Amish!”
Word of warning: because Netflix suggested it (with their million-dollar recommendation algorithm), and no one was around to stop me, I just watched 8 Mile -- the rap flick with Eminem. This set me off on a wave of wiggerish adrenaline -- and I put on a hoodie to keep it going. My work slacks and memory-foam slippers are still keeping me in the New Jersey suburbs, but it’s entirely possible that some street will seep into this post. Don’t hate, be glad that I didn’t rap it.

A NoShmeat reader recently asked me if Amish food products are considered Certified Humane®. Easy enough to answer -- a quick drive-by on the Certified Humane website: No. But this doesn’t get at the heart of question, of course, because not holding a certification does not necessarily mean (though it does imply) inhumane treatment. Since ‘Amish’ evokes idyllic visions of bonneted women churning butter near a cow-speckled meadow, I decided to look into it.
And indeed, after a little digging, I realized that I should qualify my original “No” -- “HELL NO!”


Not only is Amish food not humane -- it’s not even Amish! Food labels that claim Amish origins are a enduring marketing deception that capitalizes on the bucolic image of the Amish. Like all good marketing, it persists despite being repeatedly stabbed and left to perish behind a dumpster. Debunked, I mean.

Finding this out turned out trickier than I anticipated, as the Amish (surprise) do not keep too many websites.

Several credible sources finally shed light on the issue.

A 1999 article from the New York Times is unequivocal:
...many Amish chickens are raised no better than Frank Perdue's.
The article goes on to quote Ariane Daguin, co-owner of D'Artagnan, a Newark-based supplier of Amish chicken to New York restaurants and markets:
''It's a marketing ploy [...] it doesn't mean anything.”
The mystique of the Amish label, Ms. Daguin said, comes from its ''aura of naturalness,'' though chickens raised on Amish farms do not always eat vegetarian feed. Nor are they free-range or free roaming.
So what does this say about the Amish? Nothing, actually, because herein lies the fraud:
...even if the menu says ''Amish,'' the birds can come from almost any farm in Lancaster County. For all that diners know, they could be eating Shaker-bake.
This is corroborated by “Amish Country” on the label: Deception or fair game?, a post by Erik Wesner on his site Amish America. Having “visited over 30 Amish communities and met roughly 5,000 Amish families,” and penned a book about Amish business practices, makes Wesner an authority on everything Amish. Baller.
An Amish entrepreneur he interviewed for the book, had this to say:
“I see this in the food industry. There’s quite a few organizations here locally that will sell using “Amish”.  And what they’re trying to do is create the perception that it does come from Amish producers.  When it doesn’t.  They don’t explicitly say so, they just say “Amish Country this”, “Amish Country that,”…”Amish” is big, “Country” is small.  So, the customer that buys this, his perception…is this comes from an Amish farm or an Amish producer.  And it isn’t."
No shit. I snapped this photo of a label from an egg carton at my local supermarket:
And this one from Zabars, an upscale supermarket in NYC:

According to this article from the Chicago Tribune, the USDA does not enforce any requirements on the Amish label for chicken, except “geographical verification that the birds were raised on "Amish facilities." In other words, they be bullshittin’ you, cuz.

The takeaway:
‘Amish’ food labeling is a blatant case of misleading advertising. Though one might expect the Amish to consider it a compliment that a marketing swindle can succeed solely by piggybacking on their good name, many of them are not happy about it, as Wesner’s article goes on to describe. And if you are wondering why the Amish don’t sue these companies, or at least spark up the rag on a few kerosene-filled liquor bottles -- it is because litigation, not to mention Molotov cocktails, are against the religious convictions of the pacific people.

So eschew the label, if only on principle. And spread the word. Will we be able to pull out the GAT and unload a clip into this myth in time to bail before the cops show? Unlikely. Can we slap it around a little and spray some graffiti? Certainly. So do your part, scatter this to the four winds of the Internet, and let’s do some damage.

P.S. If you suspect or know of any other labeling bullshit, drop a comment. Labels are our first line of defense against shmeat and sh-products -- so let's do our best to keep them honest. 

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