Sunday, May 06, 2007

Dissembling in English

To be honest, I'm stretching to make this fit into a blog about English and English teaching, but it pissed me off enough that I sent a letter to the editor of our local paper.

On Monday April 30 2007 a letter from Bob Gordanier, Dufferin County beef producer, board director, Ontario Cattlemen's Association was published expressing his "disappointment with an advertisement placed in the Orangeville Banner on April 17 (page 22)." He characterises the advertisement as a kind of 'force-feeding of misleading information'. I hardly see how consumers are being forced to read advertisements in the Banner, but this kind of hyperbole is a good way to start your attack when you really have no substantial points to make. This is but the first of Gordanier's standard rhetorical ploys in his dissembling letter.

He begins his "clarification" by providing nutritional information about lean beef. Ploy number 2: when you have no pertinent information to add to the discussion about the environmental effects of beef, change the topic. He continues along this line by saying that "Canada's Food Guide encourages Canadians to enjoy one to three servings of meat and alternatives, such as lean beef, every day." The implication is that people should eat meat. Yet, Canada's Food Guide explicitly supports a vegetarian diet.

Gordanier "explains" that "livestock production (is) sustainable (humans have been farming animals for 5,000 years, after all)." Ploy number 3: us false analogies. What this argument ignores is the fact that the means of production has changed dramatically. What's more, intensive and unsustainable agricultural practices have been the downfall of numerous civilisations throughout history.

Finally, consider Gordanier's claim that grazing animals "more than doubles the land area that can be used to produce food." Ploy number 4: distract with statistics. The above claim may be technically correct, but consider the difference between doubling the land area that can be used to produce food and doubling the food produced in a given land area. Current agricultural land use could be dramatically cut if livestock farming disappeared. According to the USDA, growing the crops necessary to feed farmed animals requires nearly half of the United States' water supply and 80% of its agricultural land (source). Additionally, animals raised for food in the U.S. consume 90% of the soy crop, 80% of the corn crop, and a total of 70% of its grain. I expect the numbers would be similar in Canada.

The facts remain that, for most Canadians, moving to a vegetarian diet will reduce our environmental impact.

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Next week, I think I'll take Gordanier's letter and feed it to my level 6 class to see how far they can go in identifying all the BS.

1 comment:

Ann said...

Thank you for bringing such nice posts. Your blog is always fascinating to read.