Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

February 24, 2009

Kids’ Nutrition Choices Made By Lobbyists, Not Doctors

by Brad Warbiany

Kevin Drum tells us “the reality is, this is how things get done”. In the below exchange, Kevin is MJ (Mother Jones), and Michael Pollan (Berkeley journalism prof & food author) is MP:

MJ: Does WIC [the Women, Infants, and Children program] still specify that you buy dairy?

MP: Yes. We had a huge fight to get a little more produce in the WIC basket, which is heavy on cheese and milk because the dairy lobby is very powerful. So they fought and they fought and they fought, and they got a bunch of carrots in there. [Laughs.]

MJ: Specifically? Who knew: the carrot lobby?

MP: Specifically carrots. The next big lobby. But there is also money in this farm bill for fresh produce in school lunch. The price of getting the subsidies was getting the California delegation on board, and their price was $2 billon for what are called specialty crops — fresh fruit and produce grown largely in California.

I would point out to Kevin that this not “how things get done” in my family. In my family, I [more accurately my wife] decides what the children eat, and we do so out of true and sincere care for their well-being. I’m not going to say that our decisions are always right, but they always incorporate the best knowledge we can find. I have no lobbyists showing up at my door paying me to feed my kids carrots instead of broccoli, and thus nothing to cloud my judgement.

Sadly, this is how things get done in government — a fact which I think would point more people towards libertarianism than many others.

Americans idealize government. We act as if it’s populated by well-meaning experts, who want nothing more than to provide humanity with their expertise and are looking out for us. We view them as able to integrate the demands of a wide-ranging polity into optimum policy, using their judgement and experience to improve life for all. Even more, we think they care about us.

The reality, on the other hand, is that government is a job. You do your job to satisfy your customers, which in politics is more often lobbyists than the general public. Why is dairy such a high component of WIC? Because the dairy lobby is enormous. Why did carrots — rather than broccoli, or asparagus, or cauliflower — get such favor? Because the carrot lobby, as strange as it may seem, is powerful. Seriously… CARROT LOBBY! If those two words placed in that order don’t disgust people about the arbitrary and capricious nature of government decision-making, you need to wake up.

The first step to mentally breaking with the government is to understand that government bureaucrats have their own interests — not yours — at heart. This isn’t a revelation. It occurs in business — workers often have goals that serve themselves more than their employer (such as a drive to earn a raise even if business conditions are down), and businesses often have goals that are counter to the best wishes of their customers (i.e. to earn the largest profit the market will bear to keep the doors open and please their shareholders). We understand in most commercial situations that we need to look out for ourselves, but then assume that the government is “looking out for us” in all others. When you assume the best about government bureaucrats, it blinds you to the fact that you’re giving these people coercive power and you can’t be sure that they’re going to use it in your interests.

As George Washington said:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Government doesn’t have the best methods for making decisions. That’s why libertarians don’t want government making many decisions.

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  • Akston

    Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

    Which is why the class of issues most appropriately handled by government are issues of force: National Defense, Civil Defense (police), and enforcing arbitration (courts).

    In matters beyond the force-based (like diet, business, religion, voluntary associations, sexual preferences), government is the wrong tool for the job.

  • Akston

    Though considering Bug Bunny’s legendary facility at applying and deflecting force, perhaps the Carrot Lobby should indeed have a stronger voice in government.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Akston,

    Well, if my grandmother is to be believed, at least the kids will have good eyesight.

  • Nick M.

    Read the comments after the article. There is one that is just hilarious. It’s about “food sovereignity,” whatever the hell that is. From the comment, it’s about having all countries provide their own food, but then later states that the best way to do this for the US to increase food aid.

  • Akston

    From Wikipedia:

    “Food sovereignty” is a term originally coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996 [1] to refer to a policy framework advocated by a number of farmers, peasants, pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, women, rural youth and environmental organizations, namely the claimed “right of peoples to define their own food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries systems,” in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces.

    Via Campesina’s seven principles of food sovereignty include:

    1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.

    2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.

    3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.

    4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.

    5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural
    policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.

    6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.

    7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decisionmaking on food and rural issues.

    This is the first I’ve heard of Food Sovereignty. Obviously, I’d need to study it more to have more sophisticated appreciation. As it stands, the seven principles seem to translate to:

    1. I have a right to force other people to make food for me that I like and is good for me.

    2. I can take other people’s land. More so if I was female. I can also homestead land even if it already was done so by someone else who claims ownership.

    3. If someone comes up with an idea of how to better use their land, I can force them to share that with me.

    4. Growing more food than I can eat and selling it is bad. It implies my food is of value to others.

    5. Whether agreements between myself and other producers and distributors are voluntary sales or government enabled confiscation, governments should have a piece of that action.

    6. If government oppression or unbridled reproduction causes others to be hungry, the product of my land and effort is rightfully theirs to take.

    7. If I can get a bunch of my friends to vote with me, we can do whatever we like to the minority. Especially if my friends are mostly women.

    However, I might not have that right.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany

    Akston,

    I removed the double comment (the first one that wasn’t formatted) for you…

    BTW, I think your summary is spot-on.

  • Sandy

    This is a doublespeak world. Milk and dairy products offer considerable nutrition to growing children and at low cost. This is not about health or optimal nutrition of women and children, nor about addressing the most pressing nutritional needs. I went to the actual farm bill and WIC legislation — it specifies locally-grown ORGANIC produce, which costs considerably more, while providing no real nutritional benefit. This was intense lobbying… but not for women and children.
    http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2007/06/devils-in-details-obesity-health-and.html

    Oh, and you’re right NANA (fruit and vegie lobby) is HUGE:
    http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2007/03/if-we-passed-out-grades-for-science.html

  • Peter

    Akston: When you say that “food sovereinity” is about people having the power to decide what foods they produce and eat, that sounds very simple and libertarian. Unfortunately, when you go into the details of what these people want, it is quite convoluted and oppressive.

  • Akston

    Peter,

    I’m sorry if I left the impression that I support the concept of Food Sovereignty in any way.

    While I have just discovered the term and its description, I can say that from what I’ve read so far that I agree with you: This doctrine is convoluted and oppressive. It appears to be cut from the same dismal cloth of collectivism that helped demolish Russia during their Soviet phase, and is anathema to all things libertarian.

    My summary of the seven principles of Food Sovereignty was intended to offer simpler phrasing of those murky collectivist definitions. I also wanted to suggest the actual effects of that kind of thinking. While potentially very well intentioned, this sort of Food Communism would inevitably lead to the same horrific results that Soviet communism did.

  • Peter

    Akston,

    I am sorry if I left the impression that you support the concept of Food Svereignity in any way.

    I suppose I should have said “when THEY say such and such” rather than “when YOU say such and such”, since they are the confused socialists and you are just exposing the flaws in their argument.

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