So sue me.

Corporations have increasingly adopted a tactic of legal bullying–threatening a ruinous lawsuit against those less able to defend themselves in an expensive legal system–to get their way. Sadly, it appears this is happening in the Los Angeles vegan community.

Vegans get used to reading ingredient lists at grocery stores to choose vegan products that are often not labeled as such. Different vegans apply different standards, but at minimum, vegan foods should not contain meat, dairy, or egg. Honey is controversial, as is the most common form of sugar. Some vegans will reject products that in any way entail the use of any animals. At least at a grocery store, it is somewhat possible to choose. Alternatively, one can order goods at a variety of on line vegan merchants.

The act of going to a restaurant, however, is an act of trust. That not all ingredients are listed on menus and that some sauces are mysterious leads a vegan either to interrogate a waitperson (who likely has limited knowledge), to cross one’s fingers and hope, or to limit one’s excursions to those restaurants that appear easily able to produce vegan dishes. Restaurants that label themselves as “vegan” are thus especially attractive.

But what if a restaurant makes false claims about its food?

A blogger invested considerable effort, time, and money checking putatively vegan foods at some Los Angeles restaurants and meticulously documented her procedures. She found a number of cases of trace amounts of non-vegan ingredients, likely due to different ingredient labeling requirements in Asian countries. One restaurant, however, managed to score an “overload” for casein, a dairy ingredient.

Instead of transparently correcting the problem, however, the restaurant sought legal help. As can be seen from the original posting, this blogger is not rich. So all the lawyer has to do is breathe the word “lawsuit.”

Fluffing up the threat, the lawyer claims, “The facts are that Green Leaves Vegan is vegan and is verified by the Los Angeles Health Dept. Green Leaves has passed all city inspections regarding it’s vegan menu.” It would be a very rare health department that tests foods to determine whether or not they are in fact vegan. This is a blatantly specious claim. It is not the only one.

This lawyer alleges that the “information … provided is false, malicious and defamatory. My clients business has suffered as a direct result of you [sic] website.” To claim that this blogger’s information is such is to claim that this blogger’s tests were “false, malicious and defamatory.” I strongly doubt that this lawyer or his client were present for these tests. Therefore this lawyer’s characterization is unsupportable.

But of course “Quarry Girl” cannot afford a legal defense. A lawyer can easily bully her. So she publishes a retraction.

The threat is the same as in higher profile cases. “Truth” comes to be limited to that which can be said without fear of legal action. It comes to be defined as information, misinformation, or disinformation approved by the wealthy, whether or not it is in the public interest.

I wasn’t present for these tests either. And the procedures Quarry Girl claims to have implemented are well outside my area of expertise. But any scholar in any kind of science will recognize the general outline of her original posting. We will recognize that she presented evidence. The lawyer presented something else. But that something else comes to be the “truth.”

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