Scoop by Scoop

So about Plan A: Yes, it's true. A few days ago I ate a pint of ice cream. Not all at once, but in spoonfuls over the course of an afternoon. I'd been thinking about how, bit by bit, America's apparel, electronics, computer, toy and automotive corporations are moving offshore. Soon they'll all be gone, I thought, dipping my spoon into the small circular carton, hoping for another spoonful of creamy, chilled comfort. But there was nothing left.

To be honest, it wasn't really ice cream. It was gluten free ice cream "replacement," called Arctic Zero. All Arctic Zero products are manufactured in southern California. I chose Arctic Zero's Mint Chocolate Cookie because it's cool, minty, infused with chocolate, and tastes like real ice cream. And the entire pint has 150 calories, zero fat. Don / Richie C's favorite Arctic Zero flavor is Strawberry Banana. But on this particular day he wasn't home eating ice cream replacement with me, listening to me yammer on about the Death of American manufacturing. He was at the driving range hitting golf balls. Smart man.

Anyway, when I think about the WTO removing country of origin labels from non-processed food products, when I think about the idea of one boundary-free world versus the United States of America, the word "incrementalism" comes to mind. Bit by bit, we soon won't be able to see--won't even expect to see--where in the world things are made. Remove country of origin labels from meat, fish, agricultural and other non-processed foods--as Mexico, Canada, America's own Cattlemen's Association and the WTO are moving toward--and before you know it, country of origin labels will be a thing of the past on every product out there, as if we're all living in the same place. But here is not there. Mexico, for example, is not California. Their agricultural, health and safety regulations are not ours. Our oversight--while far from perfect--is meant to protect us. What oversight does Mexico have in place? This has tremendous health implications for us. Consider this, written by World Net Daily founder Joseph Farrah (May 14, 2010):

Just last week, those promoting "free trade" were boasting about the opening of a distribution center in Houston, Texas, for DLM USA Enterprises, a subsidiary of Alpura, a Mexican dairy company – one of three such businesses importing milk into the U.S.

Let me tell you about leche importado.

Having lived and worked as a newsman for 20 years in Los Angeles, I learned a long time ago to avoid dairy products – milk, cheese, etc. – from Mexico. Because of the proximity of the city to Mexico and the heavy Mexican population longing for Mexican foods, listeria outbreaks occurred on a regular basis.

What is listeria?

Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium called listeria monocytogenes. Although there are other types of listeria, most cases of listeriosis are caused by listeria monocytogenes. Listeria is found in soil and water. Vegetables can become contaminated from the soil or from manure used as fertilizer. Animals can carry the bacterium without appearing ill and can contaminate foods of animal origin, such as meats and dairy products.

A 2008 listeriosis outbreak across Canada caused 53 confirmed cases, 6 suspected, with 20 deaths.

Even if it doesn't kill you, listeriosis is a very serious illness. You don't want to get it. If you think Montezuma's revenge is bad, listeria is exponentially worse. It is known to cause miscarriages among pregnant women who contract it. You've been told not to drink the water in Mexico; don't even think about drinking the milk.

Or how about this, from our own Food and Drug Administration:

Tourists tempted to pick up bargains south of the border should beware of one bargain that isn't a good buy—a so-called “vanilla” flavoring or extract that isn’t vanilla flavoring or extract at all, but instead is made from a completely different plant material that contains coumarin. Coumarin is a substance with potential toxic side effects banned from food in the United States.

Eating food containing coumarin may be especially risky for people taking blood-thinning drugs because the interaction of coumarin and blood thinners can increase the likelihood of bleeding.

Now imagine Mexican dairy products, vanilla extract, produce, etc, arriving in the United States daily, trucked in on Mexican trucks from facilities in that country, without country of origin labels on a single item to be sold here in the U.S.A. That's not just some crazy notion thought of by me, high on a pint of Arctic Zero Mint Chocolate Cookie.

That's the reality made possible on March 4, 2011, when the United States and Mexico "agreed in principle…to open U.S. highways to Mexican long-haul trucks." President Obama finished a job (begun by President G. W. Bush), saying that he would move ahead "in a way that strengthens the safety of cross-border trucking, lifts tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. goods, expands our exports to Mexico and creates jobs on both sides of the border."

With Mexican President Felipe Calderon at his side, President Obama also said: "After nearly 20 years, we finally have found a clear path to resolving the dispute over trucking between our two countries."

The deal calls for Mexico to lift 50 percent of its retaliatory tariffs immediately while Mexican truckers undergo safety, language and driver training and represents the latest NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) terms agreed upon between the United States and Mexico.

Wall Street and multilateral corporations hailed the long-delayed compromise as a good thing. It will, they say, open Mexico's doors to more U.S. exports. I want to believe that. I want to believe Mexico desperately wants our products, is clamoring for our milk and our produce.

But instead I picture still more American corporations fleeing to Mexico to scoop up the products they used to harvest or manufacture here. I picture inexpensive Mexican milk, produce and other goods flowing freely here (in foreign trucks; foreign drivers at the wheel), jeopardizing our health and putting still more Americans out of work. I picture people like you and me, who go to the grocery store and want to buy American products, unable to decipher where the heck the lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, milk--you name it--come from. We'd like to support local economies, but the WTO and NAFTA have other plans. It's as if they got together and said You get the country of origin labels off, we'll open the borders, and those Made in America zealots will never know what hit them.

Insult, meet injury.

Little by little, as one American industry after another leaves this country, will we adapt? Will we become used to 9.1 percent unemployment and 14 million looking for jobs (some say 24 million, if you count those who've simply given up)? Will we give in to economists who argue that lifting emerging global economies will lift ours too? We don't see much evidence of that--especially in the middle class--but oh well. It is what it is, right? Will we lower our expectations? Maybe our kids won't be able to own homes. Maybe life can't be better for them than it was for us. Maybe America isn't anything special. Is that how we--bit by bit--are beginning to think?

Although Dad frequently dipped into the waters of negativity, he was at heart an optimist. He had a can-do attitude, whether repairing a broken appliance or giving advice to his kids. Whaddya mean you're gonna quit? That's ridiculous.

What would he tell me about incrementalism? Would he say America's doomed? Would he tell me this whole project's silly? Nope. He would go to the freezer, pull out a half-gallon of vanilla ice cream, and start scooping.

Guess it's time for another pint of Arctic Zero. Better get it while it's still made here.