Stephen Joseph first sued in San Francisco over graffiti. He lost, but the city cleaned up the graffiti. His latest victory is trans fats. He has learned that you can lose in court, but carry the day.
A terrific and exciting article from the Times about a guy who epitomizes my ideal heroic American citizen: someone who sues for a good cause, not for money, and who manages to change things even when he loses.
A good name to remember, Stephen Joseph, if you feel the desire and have the strength to participate in a public interest law case.
Here’s how the article begins. You’ll see the quality of requisite heroism Mr. Joseph must have, to do what he does:
“You should be ashamed of yourself!”
So began the email to Stephen L. Joseph. It was 2003, and Mr. Joseph, a public interest lawyer, had just filed a lawsuit against Kraft Foods for marketing Oreos to children. The trans fats in the cookies, he argued, were unsafe and easily replaced.
The email writer took issue with Mr. Joseph’s methods. “We live in America, land of the free, where we can eat whatever the hell we want!!! If you don’t like it, move to Afghanistan, you damn terrorist.”
To judge by his inbox, with its thousands of similar angry emails — “Most of them telling me to get a life. Also, some telling me to drop dead,” Mr. Joseph said — he was on the wrong side of history, his ideas destined for the dust bin.
But the movement grew, and last month, the federal government told the food industry it has until 2018 to stop using trans fats. Mr. Joseph helped propel the movement and was a pioneer in nutrition-related lawsuits; after getting Kraft to eliminate trans fats from Oreos, he then sued McDonald’s over a delay in eliminating those fats in its fries.