WE NOW KNOW the precise day the United States lost its innocence. On Wednesday, Nov. 29, court papers revealed that Kraft Foods Inc. -- the company that has brought us Cheez Whiz, Mallomars and Kool-Aid Mad ScienTwists -- markets some foods that are not 100% natural.
In her lawsuit against the prepared-foods giant, Brenda Lifsey of Los Angeles argues that Kraft Dips Guacamole contains such ingredients as partially hydrogenated soybean and coconut oils, corn syrup, whey and food starch, along with yellow and blue food coloring. Only 2% of the product consists of avocado -- generally considered the primary ingredient in the popular dip.
Lifsey could have found all that out by reading the label before purchasing the product, but she claims she was unaware of the dip's ingredients until she concluded it didn't taste "avocadoey" enough. That's a surprising oversight from a woman savvy enough to have participated in multiple class-action lawsuits against large retail businesses. An alert shopper would have had plenty of other warnings too -- Ray E. Gallo, Lifsey's attorney, has been advertising since this summer for plaintiffs in a guacamole lawsuit, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been arguing for three years that guacamole-ish dips like Kraft's should be relabeled.
Renaming the product may not be an unreasonable accommodation. While buyers of SunnyD, for example, may deduce that the product does not, in fact, contain the sun, Kraft simply called its product "guacamole." The company has since announced it will rename the product, though Gallo intends to keep up the struggle for punitive damages -- and to take the fight to other mock-amole marketers as soon as he can round up enough plaintiffs.
Ironically, cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris bought Kraft in the late 1980s in part to get away from its own lawsuit-magnet core business. But for groups such as the CSPI, all food is just another form of secondhand smoke, and a society can sue its way to good health and common sense. As long as consumers continue to combine litigiousness with relaxed label-reading habits, the food police will have plenty of cases. Is the goal here to get guac with more avocados or to create more work for the abogados?