Orthorexia, Pollan and fear of food

Originally published in The Daily Maverick.

As that master epistemologist (and occasional US defence secretary) Donald Rumsfeld reminded us in 2002, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Some of these unknown unknowns are probably harmful to us, but seeing as we don’t know what they are, there’s little we can do to safeguard ourselves against them. But as my earlier treatment of the moral panic relating to DStv and porn implied, a known unknown (in this case, the harmfulness of porn) can be treated in two entirely different ways.

How safe is safe enough? Cloned food and moral panics

Weeks prior to the FDA’s declaration that milk and meat from cloned animals was safe for human consumption, the Wall Street Journal observed that consumers have a history of being cautious in adopting technological innovations in food. Pasteurised milk took years to gain acceptance, and “some consumers and consumer groups still refer to genetically altered foods, like those that contain genetically modified corn or soybeans, as ‘Frankenfood’” (Zhang et al., 2008), more than a decade after such products appeared on the market.