Warning: Reading this could be bad for you

The most disturbing thing I've read recently came from a carton of eggs.

Along with the usual hype about the eggs being "Grade AA" and "all natural" and "really, really good for you, despite what your doctor says," was this item, in red letters: "Vegetarian-fed hens."

I can't get this phrase out of my mind. Aren't chickens, by their very nature, vegetarians? Are there packs of carnivorous hens running around, hunting prey? Does it mean the hens are hand-fed by vegetarians? Or, scariest of all, the hens devour actual vegetarians, which raises the carnivore question again.

If "vegetarian-fed hens" is meant as a sale pitch, it fails miserably. It reminds us that eggs come from the nether regions of chickens, which, let's face it, we're trying not to think about when we sit down to breakfast. If it's meant as a warning, then shouldn't it be clearer? Should we be cautioning our vegetarian friends to steer clear of hens?

We've gone crazy with warning labels in this country. Manufacturers are so afraid of being sued, they warn us against ever using their products. Owners' manuals contain page after page cautioning against electric shocks and other potential disasters. Even advertising, the last bastion of institutionalized lying, is chock-full of warnings.

It began with cigarettes -- the "Surgeon General's Warning" on every pack, telling us tobacco smoke causes lung cancer, birth defects, heart disease, bad vibes, etc. At first, those warnings probably helped get the word out. But do they do any good now? Are there any smokers left who don't know cigarettes are bad for you? If so, we'd like the address of the cave they've been living in since 1967. We'll drop them a line.

Warning labels have gone far beyond such obvious health risks. The latest one to trouble me was on our minivan. The very long label begins: "WARNING: Motor vehicles contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects . . ."

Oh, so it's not drunk drivers that should worry us. It's the chemicals in the upholstery.

You can't turn on a TV these days without being offered prescription drugs. Drug companies spent $2.7 BILLION on "direct-to-consumer" advertising in 2001, according to the federal General Accounting Office. And we wonder why prescription drugs cost so much.

Yet the commercials contain so many warnings about side-effects, it's a wonder anyone takes the drugs. Yes, the product might help your allergies, but taking it could give you a worse disease or make you grow antlers.

I recently saw an ad for a drug that purports to battle "acid reflux." The side-effects included "headaches, diarrhea and abdominal pain." Now wait a minute: Isn't that what "acid reflux" is? Abdominal pain?

Consumers drive the American economy and, yes, we should be warned when products are dangerous. But nothing's risk-free. Shouldn't we consumers be given credit for a little common sense? Shouldn't we be spared some of these warnings? And, for Pete's sake, shouldn't we stop suing fast-food companies because their grease-dripping hamburgers made us fat?

We need to halt this tidal wave of lawsuits and warning labels, though we might need to post the following in chicken coops nationwide: "Warning -- Eating vegetarians can cause abdominal pain."


Greg Pate said...

Well Steve, it's obvious you've never spent much time around chickens. Growing up in Cottonwood, we used to delight in finding tomato worms in the summer, and giving a big fat juicy one to the nearest chicken. "Chicken football" would ensue, with the next available chicken plucking the hapless big fat worm out of the first chicken's beak and running in another direction, until the next closest chicken would repeat, running a different direction, until finally one chicken got far enough away from all the others, with the worm, to where he could enjoy his globulous green meal in relative peace. I can attest that the tomato worms themselves were definitely vegetarian, but the chickens who ate them (and grasshoppers and earthworms and beetles and just about any other thing they could fit in their pointy little beaks) assuredly were not.


Well, of course you're right, Greg. I wasn't thinking about bugs and worms when I wrote about vegetarian chickens. I was thinking of chickens stalking, um, deer. Or vegetarians. And vegans? That's some good eatin' right there.