Rural Legends: Fiction Not Facts

By Gary Truitt
May 31, 2010

Rural farmlandAn urban legend is a form of modern folklore consisting of apocryphal stories believed by their tellers to be true. While this phenomenon is not new, the internet and mass media have fostered the rapid and almost universal spread of these stories to the point where most people do not know if they are true or false. Someone posts some outrageous story on a web site, and someone picks it up and puts it in an e-mail to 20 of his friends. These 20 people then pass it on without bothering to find out the source or even if the story is true. This process continues at the speed of light and multiplies exponentially. Soon the story becomes so imbedded in our social consciousness that it is assumed to be true and people and policy makers begin to act on it. They are called urban legends because the subject matter often involves aspects of city life. Also, before the internet, these stories were heard on the street or the alleys of big cities. I would like to introduce the concept of rural legends.

Rural legends, like their urban counterparts, are more than likely not true but have been presented as true for so long and to so many people that they are assumed to be accurate. The subject of rural legends revolves around aspects of rural life and farming. The authenticity of rural legends is rarely challenged because, with only 2% of the population involved in agriculture and the majority of citizens not living in rural areas, few people have the background to judge the truthfulness of a rural legend. What is even more distressing is that lawmakers and government officials are making laws based on rural legends not on facts.

It seems that when it comes to food, the more outrageous and disgusting the legend, the more readily it is believed. One day many, many years ago, I jokingly told my children that bologna was made from cow brains. To this day, they will not eat it. Other food legends that are not true include that eating turkey makes you sleepy and that Hostess Twinkies have an infinite shelf life. Most food legends, however, are warnings. Microwaving food in plastic containers produces cancer causing toxins, the artificial sweetener aspartame is responsible for causing multiple sclerosis, and Mountain Dew will shrink testicles and lower sperm count are all legends that are not true.

The current EPA review of Atrazine is taking on the look of a rural legend in the making. Despite years of testing and literally thousands of scientific studies, environmental radicals continue to accuse the popular farm chemical of being a danger. Officials at the EPA, who seem more interested in pleasing environmental radicals than in sound science, have undertaken yet another review of Atrazine. The Natural Resources Defense Council, an anti-everything organization, has alerted the media to this fact and stories about how farmers are poisoning people and causing autism are popping up everywhere. Like a real rural legend, the facts do not fit the myth.

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