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Perishable Thoughts –
Produce Industry On Trial

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 17, 2008

One of the ongoing sagas that we have chronicled here at the Pundit is the story of produce companies punished without any clear wrongdoing on their part. Such was the case in the Spinach Crisis, the Honduran cantaloupe situation, growers of tomatoes, chili peppers, cilantro and other produce during the recent Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak and, most recently, the Aunt Mid’s situation that we chronicled here.

PRODUCE BUSINESS Publishing Director, Ken Whitacre, read the surrealistic story of how Aunt Mid’s was “implicated, indicted, convicted and punished” without being shown the evidence against it or being given an opportunity to defend itself, and it led him to think of Kafka and specifically to send us this line:

“I have to fight against countless subtleties in which the Court indulges. And in the end, out of nothing at all, an enormous fabric of guilt will be conjured up.”

— Franz Kafka
The Trial
1925

You can view this quote on Pg. 167 of this edition:
The Trial
By Franz Kafka
Translated by E. Muir
Published by A. A. Knopf, 1956
296 pages

And purchase a recent edition in English here:
By Franz Kafka
Schocken (May 25, 1999)
304 pages

You can buy a DVD of the 1962 Orson Welles film adaptation in which Anthony Perkins plays Josef K right here.

The novel revolves around a character named Josef K, and the very first line sets the stage: “SOMEONE must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

Throughout our work on these various food safety issues, we have consistently warned that more is at stake than food safety. The very idea that we are a society based on law and not on individuals with arbitrary power is threatened by the virtually unlimited discretion of public health authorities.

There are many interpretations of The Trial, but we think the one that fits best here is understanding the book as a contemplation on the relationship between the individual and the bureaucracy. The way the human character gets distorted when people are given authority over others and, quickly, becomes a tale of misplaced authority and abuse of power.

The book was unfinished when Kafka died, but his best friend ignored his instructions and published it anyway. The unfinished nature shows, but the surrealistic feel of the novel, the “this can’t be real” perspective captures so perfectly what a family like the Riggio family at Aunt Mid’s must experience.

It is great literature, but lousy law. We can’t allow such abuse of power to stand. Many thanks to Ken for passing on this quote.

*****

Perishable Thoughts is a regular section of the Perishable Pundit. If you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the industry, please send it on. You can do so right here.

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