Preaching Abstinence

The Gap clothing company has begun a new marketing campaign that they suggest can “help eliminate aids in Africa.” This new effort is being marketed as (Product) Red and it offers their customers a unique opportunity to “make a difference in Africa.”

According to their web page, The Gap will be “contributing half the profits from Gap (Product) Red products to the Global Fund, to help women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.”

The (Product) Red campaign was brought to my attention by Michael Medved who was offering his critique of this apparently noble effort on his radio program. One particular caller who objected to Medved’s critique (should we say cynicism?) really captured my attention. Part of Medved’s critique of this campaign was concerning the lack of effort to call upon people to assume personal responsibility and modify their behavior. Medved was specifically suggesting that abstinence is the best weapon against HIV/AIDS and a caller phoned in to object.

The caller suggested that the “abstinence crowd” was both naïve and foolish. “You can’t expect that teenagers aren’t going to have sex” he insisted. Understand his position: Even though the practice is killing people by the millions every year, it is foolish to think that suggesting abstinence, unquestionably the very best HIV/AIDS prevention tool, is a reasonable practice.

Contrast that position with the way abstinence from spinach is currently being practiced in the United States. According the CDC’s last intended web update for the latest E. coli outbreak, “As of 1 PM (ET) October 6, 2006, Friday, 199 persons infected with the outbreak strain of E. coli O157:H7 have been reported to CDC from 26 states.” Among those 199 cases, 3 have resulted in death.

Under the heading “CDC Advice for Consumers” notice the first point of advice: “Consumers should not eat, retailers should not sell, and restaurants should not serve spinach implicated in the E. coli O157:H7 outbreak. Products implicated in the outbreak include fresh spinach and spinach-containing products from brands processed by Natural Selection Foods.”

The CDC is preaching abstinence when it comes to spinach consumption. And, as we have been traveling (more than 8,000 miles in the car) over the last 6 weeks, I have discovered that restaurants are responding to the CDC’s abstinence message. In fact, it has become a bit of a game for me to ask the server if there is any spinach in the salad that will be served. In the course of our travels, we have eaten out a lot and not once has spinach been available.

To be sure, 3 people dying from bad spinach is terrible, but that doesn’t compare to the death toll of HIV/AIDS. Yet, abstinence is generally accepted as a reasonable method of prevention only in the former, the much less deadly situation. I wonder why.

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