We Didn’t Start the Fire

April 22, 2022

Is there a reason so many food plants are burning?

For as long as I can remember, conspiracy theories have swirled around food and the companies that process it.

This company is in secret league with the devil. That one uses cat meat and calls it chicken. The other uses slave labor. Maybe it’s a natural consequence of food being produced far away, out of sight; you can’t help getting a little paranoid about just what’s in it and how it’s made.

I thought I’d heard it all, but this is a new one: Apparently a bunch of firebugs want to keep food prices high by setting fire to food plants.

There have been what seems like an unusual number of major fires in food processing facilities so far this year: The Gem State Processing potato plant in Heyburn, Idaho, on April 13 caught fire when an airplane struck it; the headquarters of Azure Standard, a distributor of organic food in Dufur, Oregon, was destroyed by fire April 19; Shearer’s Foods, the salty snack company, suffered a explosion and fire at its plant in Hermiston, Oregon on Feb. 22. And there’s plenty more.

This has all given rise to some online chatter about how this is some grand conspiracy to keep food prices high. And it’s moved mainstream, if by “mainstream” you mean Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. Here’s what Carlson had to say April 21:

So industrial accidents happen, of course, but this is a lot of industrial accidents at food processing facilities at the same time the President is warning us about food shortages. They’re getting hit by planes and catching fire. What is going on here, exactly?

Carlson then interviewed one Jason Rantz, who hosts a radio talk show and has the best name for that job I’ve ever seen. Rantz’s take: “You’ve got some people speculating that this might be an intentional way to disrupt the food supply.”

Interesting. So arson is the new cyberattack?

I just have a few questions about who would orchestrate such a conspiracy, and how they choose their victims. Is it a protection racket? Or maybe it’s some perverse kind of market balancing: “The price of potato chips is getting too low. Better blow up the Shearer’s plant.”

Or maybe the whole thing is yet another manifestation of how paranoid conspiracy theories are taking over the discourse about politics, business and pretty much everything else in American life.

Oh, and that slave labor thing? Not a theory.

Update: The fire conspiracy theory has long enough legs so that Snopes felt called upon to debunk it.