The Tainted Tweet: Let Them Eat Meat!

10/22/2012 09:27 EDT | Updated 12/22/2012 05:12 EST
Getty Images
US beef laden with ractopamine, a controversial additive used to promote lean meat, is dumped into a furnace in downtown Taipei on March 12, 2012. More than six tonnes of such beef imported by a local company that contained the drug allowed in the US but banned in Taiwan was destroyed. The move came as Taiwanese government is mulling a plan to lift a ban on ractopamine-treated US beef to facilitate stalled trade talks with the US, a key trading partner and arms supplier of the politically isolated island. AFP PHOTO / Mandy CHENG (Photo credit should read Mandy Cheng/AFP/Getty Images)

One thing's for sure, the response to Danielle Smith's tweet on using XL meat to feed the hungry was significantly quicker than XL and the CFIA's response to the contaminated meat crisis. Ironically, Smith may have advocated for feeding the hungry XL meat, but she inadvertently fed the very large and vocal community of hunger, homeless, poverty and social justice advocates instead. Smith's tone deaf comments quickly rendered into political pablum.

How did an ostensibly savvy player and politician like Danielle Smith become so off side?

Enter Ray Yechtel, a Red Deer chef and father, who tweets as @lyechtel. Yechtel suggests an idea to the twitterverse, Don Braid, Calgary Herald columnist & Danielle Smith, leader of the provincial Wildrose Party. Yechtel tweets: "is there no way to cook it so its safe and feed the hungry???"

Smith responds, modifies the tweet (MT) and adds a comment of her own, "I agree. We all know thorough cooking kills E. coli. What a waste."

This is when things jumped from the frying pan and into the fire for Smith.

Smith's tweet was picked up quickly in the hyper political climate of Alberta politics. Regardless of how this is spun it was unwise and specifically for one reason, the mention and rementioning of "the hungry" and a reference to XL Meat in the same tweet.

By isolating that demographic, "the hungry", a deeply entrenched bias of Ray Yechtel was revealed. By sharing this view and stating "I agree," Smith joined Yechtel and stepped into an ideological minefield with clown shoes on. This isn't going to end well for Smith.

I offer an explanation. It is an out of context, outside of experience, spatial awareness problem. The issue is not the tweet nor Smith's response. Certainly Smith did not create the XL Food crisis nor hunger. What she did create however, is the digital political petri dish for those issues to come together to breed the perfect storm. The volatile combination of being the leader of the opposition, a nationwide food crisis, epic associated chaos in the form of millions of pounds of recalled meat and then add a deeply revealing, albeit unintentionally insensitive comment and voilà, you have the equivalent of a social media-driven bench brawl.

If we are to believe Smith's subsequent clarifying comments, at the heart of this political train wreck is a tweet taken out of context. It is less than clear what meat was being referred to as some of the meat had actually tested negative for E. coli. Grouping all the meat together is by default and an occupational hazard of 140 characters, well known to all who indulge politically on twitter.

Secondly, the outside of experience angle refers specifically to Smith's capacity to display true empathy for "the hungry." She is not alone here, not by a long shot. In fact the desensitized-to-the-plight-of-the-unwashed-masses room is very crowded. Smith is simply guilty of not having the very real experience of being hungry or poor. Had she experienced this harsh reality, she may have responded with more compassion, cognizance and street savvy than can be found in "I agree."

And finally, the tweet reveals a deficit in spatial awareness. Again, Smith is not unique here. Alberta is home to many disconnected politicians and bureaucrats, eerily unacquainted with the ubiquitous reality of an ever challenging, low income existence. Smith, and a plethora of other politicos, are without a map in the poverty landscape, of which the pitfalls are multiplicitous. Smith stepped directly into the fray and those that occupy the anti-poverty community are understandably unforgiving of shallow comments by privileged politicians. Ironically, tweets and comments like this are sustenance to those grounded in a harsher reality. Smith then, unwittingly, has fed the hungry. Unfortunately for all involved, the calories are empty, devoid of nutrition.