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What’s wrong with our legal system? I’ll tell you over a bag of Cheez-Its
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

I eat Cheez-It crackers.

They’re a mainstay when I’m hiking. On a typical one-day hike I can polish off six of the 1.5 ounce bags as well as assorted whole wheat fig bars. I buy both in bulk at Costco — the Cheez-It crackers that come 45 in a box and the Nature’s Bakery fig bars that have 24 twin packs in a box.

I know what you are thinking. The fig bars sound healthy, the Cheez-Its not so healthy.

For whatever reason after hiking for three or so years I grew less than fond of trail mix. The Cheez-It crackers have managed to fit my need for salt.

I have no illusion that the Cheez-It crackers are health food. That said I don’t think they are junk food either. I like the taste. And after getting in my share of hikes to mountain summits and up desert canyons under my belt, it’s safe to say they’re providing what I need. That said the whole wheat fig bars would pass in some quarters as healthy food.

I bring this up because of a lawsuit that is moving at a lethargic snail pace through the federal court system, first filed against Kellogg’s — the manufacturer of Cheez-Its — in 2013.

Three women are suing Kellogg’s in federal court because the words “whole grain” and/or “made with whole grain” appear on the Cheez-it packaging.

For the record, the federally required listing of what Kellogg’s uses to whip up Cheez-It crackers states each box contains 5 to 8 grams of whole wheat in every 29 grams you eat. That said the largest ingredient is enriched flour.

One of the three plaintiffs — Linda Castle —  bought three boxes of Cheez-It crackers on separate occasions. Because the Cheez-It crackers she ate came in a package that referenced “whole grain” she expected it to be 100 percent whole grain so therefore she contends she was deceived. Castle says because of that, the crackers are worth less than what she paid for them. In the lawsuit she stated if the packaging was changed to downplay the display of the words “whole grain” that she might again buy them.

An attorney for Castle found two other plaintiffs — a prerequisite for a class-action suit down the road — who said they once upon a time bought a box a week. They filed a lawsuit and demanded a jury trial and are seeking “damages, other monetary relief, declaratory relief, and an order enjoining Kellogg from continuing its false and misleading marketing.”

A federal judge in 2017 — after deciding the packaging is factually correct and that it would not mislead a “reasonable consumer” dismissed the lawsuit.’

In early December the Second Court reversed the ruling.

Now the plaintiffs want the court to certify a class action suit allowing anyone who has purchased Cheez-Its since May 19, 2010 to join them as “damaged parties” so they can share in whatever damages may ultimately be awarded.

There are some that might look at this as a chance to make easy money. Let’s be clear on that point. If for some reason a jury eventually sticks it to Kellogg’s the people likely to get a boatload of money are the lawyers with the original plaintiffs doing OK  and everyone else greedy enough to pile on maybe getting enough in a settlement to get a free bag of Cheez-Its.

I’m not saying I read the label of everything I eat, but with my history of once being twice what I now weigh, I make it a habit to examine what is in items that I repeatedly purchase and eat as well as things I might consider eating.

I get the whole grain versus enriched flour thing.

But here’s what I don’t get: If I’m trying to avoid something or want to make sure I’m getting “what I paid for” I do read the ingredient labels.

Even though I love the taste of black bean veggie burgers I will not buy them because the sodium content is off the charts compared to what I’ll accept.  I admit I ate them without realizing that was the case. I did not go out and hire a lawyer because the front of the package didn’t warn me that salt was a major ingredient to create the taste. Instead I simply stopped buying them.

I would think Linda Castle is like me. Her original reason for buying Cheez-Its is because she likes the taste. While people have different definitions as to what health foods are, that isn’t her point based on her purchase habits back when she bought the three boxes of Cheez-Its that led her to sue Kellogg’s. If you have any concerns about you are buying when you purchase packaged food, you read the labels. If whole grain is your litmus test, you don’t just look at the front of the box but you look at the ingredients.

The requirement for content labels on food is considered by the federal government to be a reasonable requirement so that people buying food items know what they are getting.  Since May 19, 2010 I’ve probably ripped into easily 3,000 bags of Cheez-Its. I do not once recall the words “whole grain” jumping out at me on the packaging. In other words,  I was not deceived by what Kellogg’s was selling. I was buying a salty snack — not health food. Any reasonable person that wasn’t a class-action lawyer that more often than not makes a living by making a mountain out of a speck of dust or was a plaintiff that hungered for money more than a Cheez-It would not be upset about how Cheez-Its are packaged.

However when a company named “Nature’s Bakery” prints the words “stone ground whole wheat” prominently on its box and I’m interested in a  true whole wheat product, I am going to read the label before I drop Fig Newtons and even try them.

A reasonable person would believe if a consumer believes buying something is of lesser value than they paid for it because it wasn’t made predominately from whole wheat that they would read the mandated label.

Cheez-Its have never deceived me. They aren’t health food per se. That’s not why I buy them. They are salty and taste good.

It’s telling that the plaintiff has stated that she is likely to start buying Cheez-Its again if the label is changed.

A reasonable person who was in Castle’s position would simply stop buying Cheez-Its if they were that upset about perceived deception and  leave it at that. That’s because a reasonable person wouldn’t engage lawyers at hundreds of dollars an hour over what a snack you can buy for 50 cents that did not cause you injury or make you sick.

Of course, a reasonable person would understand that the only reason lawsuits such as the one over Cheez-Its get rolling is that lawyers shopping for a big pay-off will take them on contingency with their initial goal to shake down money to underwrite living high on the hog on a settlement in exchange for dropping the suit or going for broke and trying to break the bank with a class-action suit.

That reminds me, I need to pick up a couple of 45-bag boxes of Cheez-Its when I’m at Costco this weekend.