Friday, September 01, 2006

The War On Food

From the latest issue of the Nation, a Forum on Food. Why am I blogging about this? To show all of you that no, I'm not crazy. The forum contains a number of writers and experts, pontificating on the current state of food. We'll just go through, bit by bit.

From Eric Schlosser:

Tyson ads don't show chickens crammed together at the company's factory farms, and Oscar Mayer ads don't reveal what really goes into those wieners.

There's a brilliant statement for you. Come to think of it, that Nike commercial I saw last night didn't show the sweatshop where my sneakers were made. Nor did the Aspirin commercial show just how they actually make aspirin.

And later, Schlosser refers to the Uniformity In Food Safety Warning Notification Requirements Act:

State laws that keep lead out of children's candy and warn pregnant women about dangerous ingredients would be wiped off the books.

As I've blogged about before, this is pure hyperbole, pure politics. The point of the law is to prevent state from enacting pointless, scientifically baseless laws that would impair national food distributors.

What single thing could change the US food system, practically overnight? Widespread public awareness--of how this system operates and whom it benefits, how it harms consumers, how it mistreats animals and pollutes the land, how it corrupts public officials and intimidates the press, and most of all, how its power ultimately depends on a series of cheerful and ingenious lies.

Ummm .... yeah ....

From Marion Nestle:

From a public health perspective, obesity is the most serious nutrition problem among children as well as adults in the United States. The roots of this problem can be traced to farm policies and Wall Street.

Exactly! It's Wall Street's fault our kids our fat- It has nothing to do with say, exercise, or declines in physical activity.

Worse, food marketing subverts parental authority by making children believe they are supposed to be eating such foods and they--not their parents--know what is best for them to eat.

This of course, as opposed to toy advertising, which does not subvert parental authority? Of course, if we banned all advertising geared towards children, then children's television itself might die off- and then maybe kids would go play outside and not be so fat!

When restrictions have been called for, the food industry has resisted, invoking parental responsibility and First Amendment rights, and proposing self-regulation instead. But because companies cannot be expected to act against corporate self-interest, government regulations are essential. Industry pressures killed attempts to regulate television advertising to children in the late 1970s, but obesity is a more serious problem now.

Damn that First Amendment and damn parents ... Wait, isn't that what Marx said?

From Michael Pollan:

The farm bill determines what our kids eat for lunch in school every day. Right now, the school lunch program is designed not around the goal of children's health but to help dispose of surplus agricultural commodities, especially cheap feedlot beef and dairy products, both high in fat.

Ahhhh, a kernel of truth. Farm policies are a problem, and they do dictate what is served to school kids. And agricultural subsidies do play an important role in what foods are cheap, and what foods are extra cheap. We do need a free market. Of course, I'm not sure that's what's being suggested here. But at least we can agree on something.

Most important, the farm bill determines what crops the government will support--and in turn what kinds of foods will be plentiful and cheap. Today that means, by and large, corn and soybeans.

True, true. Except, I thought soybeans were good for us. I thought soy was the wave of the future.

From Wendell Berry:

Alice Waters has asked me if I will propose one thing that could change the way Americans think about food. I will nominate two: hunger and knowledge.

Hunger causes people to think about food, as everybody knows. But in the present world this thinking is shallow. If you wish to solve the problem of hunger, and if you have money, you buy whatever food you like. For many years there has always been an abundance of food to buy and of money to buy it with, and so we have learned to take it for granted.

Is it just me, or does that sound insane? Let's starve people so they can appreciate food more? Is that what he's really saying?

From Troy Duster and Elizabeth Ransom:

Strong preferences for the kinds of food we eat are deeply rooted in the unexamined practices of the families, communities and cultural groups in which we grow up. From more than a half-century of social science research, we know that changing people's habitual behavior--from smoking to alcohol consumption, from drugs to junk food--is a mighty task. Individuals rarely listen to health messages and then change their ways.

If we as a nation are to alter our eating habits so that we make a notable dent in the coming health crisis around the pandemic of childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, it will be the result of long-term planning that will include going into the schools to change the way we learn about food.

Ahhh yes, long-term planning.

From Peter Singer:

Factory farming is not sustainable. It is also the biggest system of cruelty to animals ever devised.

This is not an ethically defensible system of food production. But in the United States--unlike in Europe--the political process seems powerless to constrain it.

I'm not sure I buy the "factory farming is not sustainable" argument. Isn't obesity supposed to be an issue because of our current system? I guess I'm just not smart enough to follow any of this.

From Vandana Shiva:

Humanity has eaten more than 80,000 plant species through its evolution. More than 3,000 have been used consistently. However, we now rely on just eight crops to provide 75 percent of the world's food. With genetic engineering, production has narrowed to three crops: corn, soya, canola. Monocultures are destroying biodiversity, our health and the quality and diversity of food.

I love numbers that don't mean anything. How are we supposed to know that those eight crops didn't provide more than 75% of the world's food in the past? And destroying biodiversity, health and food quality? Ummmm, evidence please.

In 1998 India's indigenous edible oils made from mustard, coconut, sesame, linseed and groundnut processed in artisanal cold-press mills were banned, using "food safety" as an excuse. The restrictions on import of soya oil were simultaneously removed. Ten million farmers' livelihoods were threatened. One million oil mills in villages were closed. And millions of tons of artificially cheap GMO soya oil continue to be dumped on India.

Again we agree. Agricultural polices can hurt people. Now if we could only agree to eliminate subsidies, eliminate pointless bans, and have a true free market in agriculture, maybe we'd be getting somewhere.

A billion people are without food because industrial monocultures robbed them of their livelihoods in agriculture and their food entitlements. Another 1.7 billion are suffering from obesity and food-related diseases. Monocultures lead to malnutrition--for those who are underfed as well as those who are overfed.

Once again, there's some truth here. But bad policy is the fault of government, not business.

From Carlo Petrini:

Gastronomic science tells us that the quality of food results from three fundamental and inseparable elements that I call the good, the clean and the just. This means paying attention to the taste and smell of food, because pleasure and happiness in food are a universal right (the good); making it sustainably, so that it does not consume more resources than it produces (the clean); and making it so that it creates no inequities and respects every person involved in its production (the just). By bringing food back to the center of our lives we commit ourselves to the future of the planet--and to our own happiness.

Yeah, I've got no comment here.

And finally, from Jim Hightower:

In the very short span of about fifty years, we've allowed our politicians to do something remarkably stupid: turn America's food-policy decisions over to corporate lobbyists, lawyers and economists. These are people who could not run a watermelon stand if we gave them the melons and had the Highway Patrol flag down the customers for them--yet, they have taken charge of the decisions that direct everything from how and where food is grown to what our children eat in school.

This is just the perfect place to end because it sums up just how much all of these people don't get it. These people all think the problem isn't the fact that we have all these laws in the first place- the problem is the people making the laws either screwed up, or are just plain corrupt. And of course, if we can just get the right sort of people, making good, healthy decisions, for our bodies and our planet, then everything will be better. It's the, "well, this government is bad, but we'll get it right"- mentality. They completely miss the point that the very nature of public policy is to be stupid, to be pointless, and to be corrupt. The more far-reaching it goes, the stupider and more corrupt the policy gets. Once again, that's the very nature of government.

I don't disagree with everything these people have to say, I just disagree with their subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) solutions. If you're concerned about health, let people know what you think. But don't try to tell me what I can and can't eat. It's creeping up, but the war on food is becoming ever present in 2006. Cherish your choices, and don't let people take them away from you under a cloud of public health do-goodery.


Post a Comment

<< Home