Ryan Gosling’s at it again.
As you may remember, the Canadian actor best known for the ‘Hey Girl’ internet meme grabbed headlines this spring with his ill-informed, but rather passionately penned letter to the National Milk Producer’s federation. Now he’s back with a Globe and Mail op-ed on swine housing as he goes to bat for the big, pink ladies at the center of the bacon-producing industry. And since crashing the farm-to-fork scene with pre-conceived notions and half truths has become something of a favorite celebrity past time, ranking right up there with flashing the paparazzi and collecting DUIs like vintage vinyl, I can’t say I’m surprised.
Gosling’s article is a notably toned down cousin to the dairy piece he released this spring and makes no mention of his ties to everyone’s favorite eco/animal-terrorism outfit, PETA. Still, while Gosling applauds the new draft of Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council Code of Care manual for aiming to phase out gestation crates, he is also just as quick to hyperbolize this time as last. Which is, I suppose, something we should expect from an op-ed that begins by comparing a pampered celebrity pooch to a 450 pound sow. Gosling goes on to employ shock-jock language, calling gestation stalls “iron maidens,” and asserts the sows who reside within them “lose their minds,” something for which there is no actual evidence.
I’ve always contended exaggeration does none of us any good, regardless of the side of our farm-fork aisle from which it comes, but Gosling’s latest stunt is particularly frustrating. Not only does it come at a time when his opinion is well within the popular realm, exempting it from the need for any exaggeration to make a point to begin with, it hit the airwaves on the heels of weeks worth of public outrage at the danger of poorly-informed celebrity platforms… and immediately generated almost zero buzz.
By contrast, when Jenny McCarthy was merely rumored to become the next co-host of The View commentators took to the virtual streets in protest. The actress and former wife of actor Jim Carrey is infamous for her years long anti-vaccine crusade, one she took up after reading a now-debunked study linking the MMR vaccine with autism. McCarthy believed her son had autism and suspected a vaccination link. With the study to back her up she spent years persuading other parents not to vaccinate their children and pushing lifestyle changes including diet modification as a means to an end, at one point even claiming diet alterations had cured her son. We know now that McCarthy’s son never did have autism, but she has been reluctant to withdraw the bulk of her previous assertions.
Many consider giving McCarthy any platform is in poor taste at best and dangerous at worst. And while that popular opinion didn’t stop The View from confirming her appointment to the position early Tuesday morning, it has at least brought national attention to the new daytime talk star’s lack of credibility. Unfortunately, virtually no one’s doing the same for stars like Gosling who abuse their celebrity to further equally dangerous, though decidedly different causes in the agriculture and food industries.
And equally dangerous they are. As Americans become increasingly removed from the farms that feed them, providing insight into the complexities of modern food production is a job that is falling more and more to the roughly 2% of people whom are also charged with producing that food. Generations ago perhaps agriculture was simplified enough that uninitiated journalists could do it justice, but today few have been able to portray the industry accurately, choosing instead to neatly package the facts into one spin or another depending on the bent of the outlets for which they work. It’s not a danger that is going to result in a resurgence of polio or contribute to the increasing outbreaks of whooping cough, but it is a danger that puts Americans — especially the rapidly growing number of them who are low-income — at serious risk of hunger.
A few months ago Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack warned rural Americans, especially farmers, that they were becoming irrelevant in Washington, D.C. The truth is that America’s farmers are only as irrelevant as they are consistent and reliable, because the first time there is a true lack of affordable food in the grocery store you can rest assured consumers will be ready to make a racket on their behalf. The question now is only how long the industry can single-handedly compensate for the complacency its own dependability breeds among consumers.