In the Trump era, it’s become increasingly clear that the administration headed by the former reality television star is remarkably adept at distracting us with headline-grabbing actions like, say, the “targeted” bombing of Syrian chemical weapons plants while slipping less sensational, but still impactful, legislation down the pipeline.
That’s what happened over Mother’s Day weekend, when, as @realDonaldTrump was urging us to “be cool” about trade negotiations with China, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices (OLPP) quietly expired. The OLPP, an Obama-era bundle of regulations that would have increased federal scrutiny of the living conditions for animals being sold as certified organic, was killed last month by Trump’s newly reconfigured USDA, led by the conservative former Georgia senator Sonny Perdue. The OLPP included legislation that was the result of decades of animal welfare advocacy, and would have strengthened the integrity of the organic label by requiring USDA-certified livestock operations to provide larger amounts of indoor living space, access to the outdoors, and better handling of sick animals.
With the expiration of the rule, the certified organic label is now basically Wild West territory when it comes to poultry and livestock farms. While the advocates for organics at transparent companies such as Horizon Organics and Pete & Gerry’s Eggs plan to continue to adhere to best practices—and have joined the Organic Trade Association in a lawsuit against the USDA—it’s possible that larger, more faceless operations like Walmart’s questionable Great Value brand could take advantage of lax USDA enforcement to raise animals in factory farm conditions and pass off their meat to consumers—at the higher organic price, of course—as responsibly raised.
That’s where Patrick McCormick comes in. An account executive at DCX Growth Accelerator, a boutique ad agency that has previously staged pro-bono, socially conscious happenings like 2015’s “Artisanal Landlord Price Hike Sales”—a bid to save the downtown Brooklyn bodega Jesse’s after a huge rent hike—he and his team at DCX conceived of the Presidential Creamery ice cream truck, a response to the demise of the OLPP and the lack of transparency in factory farming.
Under the hashtag #organicish, the truck’s menus tout flavors such as “Cage-Raised Vanilla,” “Confined-Cow Chocolate,” “3-Chickens-Per-Square-Foot Egg Creams,” and a “Sonny Perdue Beakless Chicken Po-Boy.” (In actuality, the ice cream pints are filled with plush chickens, pigs, and cows.) This week, the truck is making stops in DC and New York, which is where we caught up with McCormick to chat about the project and the dialogue it’s started.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Patrick. So, how did this project come about?
Patrick McCormick: We work with a lot of food and beverage brands, many of them organic, so this ruling was on our radar. We wanted to do some activism around it; at first, we thought of staging an “organic-ish” market in Soho; then, that evolved into doing a meat market like [Brooklyn’s] The Meat Hook; and finally we landed on a creamery. Thinking about the Trump administration, ice cream is the last thing you want them to be meddling in—it’s so pure, so purely about pleasure, and they could so easily destroy that. We thought ice cream created the best form of satire.
MUNCHIES: What’s the message of the truck?
The message is, be mad. Be mad that the Trump administration slipped this by you. Be mad that organic standards were going to be bolstered and made whole again, but then that was taken away from you.
And also, be vigilant. Be vigilant in what you’re buying, because the USDA organic label has a lot of flexibility within it now. The burden is going to fall on the consumer to read between the lines and figure out how this meat, these eggs were raised, and if they meet the standard you’re paying for. And our thinking is, who is this affecting the most? It’s not going to affect the most savvy consumer; it’s going to affect the average consumer, who wants to buy organic, but from the bigger brands that offer better prices.They might think those brands are abiding by the utmost standards, but they’re usually not.
MUNCHIES: What do you hope outcomes of the project will be?
Our goal was to raise awareness. We have been directing people to brands we know and trust, asking them to support those brands, but also urging them to contact their congressmen about the issue. Do we see real headway being made on this within a Trump administration? No. But we don’t want people to be apathetic.
We’re fighting for honesty and transparency. That’s the mission. The expiration of the OLPP followed a turn of events that was so shady. Out of 72,000 formal consumer comments on the rule's withdrawal, about 63,000 comments opposed it. Consumers want stricter organic rules, and they said so. And who did they lose out to? Big agriculture organizations like the National Cattlemen’s and Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council; ie, lobbyists. What constitutes majority, and how are these decisions being made if the majority opinion does not matter?
MUNCHIES: How do people at the truck respond? Does it spark conversation?
The reactions are really all over the place. There are those people that had never heard of the rule and were totally taken by surprise; they had no idea that the Trump administration was meddling in their food. Then there’s people that say, “Oh well that makes complete sense; profit over people and the environment, right?”
It definitely sparks conversation. People have had a lot of fun with it, and have generally been thankful to us for spreading the word.
MUNCHIES: Where does the satire part come in?
By developing the branding around the truck, which we poured a lot of energy and resources into, we’re doing exactly what the Trump administration and the USDA are doing. We adapted all of the codes of socially conscious, whole food, artisanal brands—stole them, really—but what we’re pushing is a subpar product. This can be manipulated, this can taken advantage of. We don’t want to see that happen.
MUNCHIES: Thanks, Patrick.