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June 28, 2009

Weasel words

Filed under: American Food,Philosophy — Mr. Henry @ 11:26 am

 In a friendly discussion over dinner with Ceci, Mr. Henry brought up the topic of swine flu.

“H1N1 flu!” she said sharply. “Use the correct terminology.”

The rebuke smarted. Mr. Henry is unaccustomed to being upbraided for political incorrectness especially with regard to his favorite entreé, the noble and virtuous swine, baron of the barnyard. Striving always to use correct terminology as well as correct grammar Mr. Henry would never knowingly insult a pig.




Ceci happens to be U.S. director of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, an organization that has inaugurated a new and useful system for labeling foods as well as supermarkets according to degree of humane treatment.

With a score of 76 points, Whole Foods wins by a mile. At the back of the pack, Wal-Mart gets 10 points. Clearly such labeling is still in its infancy but the effort is worthwhile.

From the site you will learn that “natural” is a weasel word not clearly defined by law or custom, a word often more misleading than helpful.


Oops. There he goes again employing unfair and harmful species stereotypes against benighted weasels forever condemned in the public imagination to notorious roles of thieves and sneaks while they simply try to provide for their weaselly little families. Mr. Henry sincerely regrets the error.


  1. “Mink” words!

    Comment by raincoaster — July 13, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  2. Your “weasel” is a mongoose. The kind-of-rectangular pupils are unique to the mongoose, which is a member of the viverrid family and more closely related to cats then to weasels.

    Comment by Argent Stonecutter — August 3, 2009 @ 12:07 pm

  3. Woops. Thank you, Argent Stonecutter.

    Are there any native American viverrids?

    Comment by Mr. Henry — August 3, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  4. I don’t think there are any viverrids in the new world. They’re found in most of Africa and south Asia, but they don’t seem to have developed the knack of living in cold places. This is a possible explanation for why they never made it to the Americas.

    If you go to Wikipedia you will find much confusion. The relationship between the various viverrids is in turmoil. There’s probably going to be a new superfamily for all the mongoose-and-civet-like-critters before the dust settles, but in the meantime I stick to “viverrid”… people will understand even if they think I’m being SO last century. 🙂

    Comment by Argent Stonecutter — August 4, 2009 @ 5:51 am

  5. Mr. Henry:

    On “This Week in Agribusiness,” Max Armstrong and Orion Samuelson discuss this topic quite frequently. (They’re clients of mine, and I have great familiarity with their TV show.) When the term, “swine flu,” appeared in our national lexicon, the pork industry took an enormous hit because people became afraid they could catch the deadly flu from their bacon and eggs, or their grilled pork chops. It’s surprising that a term like this has become a huge problem for the agricultural sector. There are farm families struggling to survive this, all because of stupid H1N1.

    Comment by Steven Knoerr — August 5, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  6. A pig farmer I know in the UK frequently gets carloads of hostile people yelling at him that he’s endangering their lives by keeping pigs. At first he was polite, and would explain the difference between their perception and the actual situation. Now he just ignores them. Pedigreed Berkshires born and raised in Scotland, while I bet half those hecklers have been to areas with infections in the last year.

    Comment by raincoaster — August 11, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

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