If you haven't heard, the big-screen adaptation of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy will be in theaters shortly after this sees print. After the release, those of us who are fans will be either a) skipping work to see another showing, b) voicing disgust over the ruination of our classic or, possibly, c) trembling under our desks as the planet wobbles from the effect of Adams' spinning in his grave. In case you're wondering, this eventually will lead to a point about food.

Here it comes now: I was re-reading the second book in the Hitchhiker's series, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, which has a passage where the characters dine at Milliways, the Restaurant at the End of the Universe. After the characters sit down, a “large dairy animal” saunters to the table and introduces itself as the dish of the day, suggesting various cuts of itself that would be particularly pleasing. The earthman in the group is shocked, orders a salad and faces a rather intriguing argument with the bovine. As the animal explains, it is of a breed that actually wants to be eaten and can say so plainly and distinctly. To ease the earthman's mind, as it is leaving the table, the animal says, “I'll just nip off and shoot myself,” adding with a wink, “Don't worry, I'll be very humane.” Despite the effort, the earthman remains addled and opts instead for a bowl of soup.

The very day I read this passage, news broke about a decision by the Tillamook County (Oregon) Creamery Association (TCCA). Members affirmed a policy requiring all milk producers delivering milk to TCCA facilities to certify that the milk is from cows not supplemented with rBST, a genetically engineered bovine growth hormone. The TCCA believes, “Consumers view artificial growth hormone supplementation as inconsistent with the Tillamook brand image.” One part of this is quite curious: consumer regard for growth hormones prompted the decision, yet the TCCA does not intend to label its products as rBST-free.

Why the lack of a label? TCCA says it wants to avoid confusing the consumer, because the FDA regards milk from rBST-supplemented cows as safe. However, the TCCA is one of those groups who realize that FDA approval is nowhere near the same as gaining consumer confidence. After all, no matter what feat of genetic engineering, the consumer always could choose that bowl of soup.