Food politics: it’s not about “freedom”

The new “culture war” over food safety and regulation is a perfect example of the misleading way these debates are so often framed in American public life, a framing that uncritically swallows conservative rhetoric about “freedom.” The debate (over, for example, the food safety bill currently working its way through Congress or the Hunger-Free Kids act just signed into law by the president) supposedly pits “nanny state” regulators against good old-fashioned American traditions and “freedom of choice.”

What it ignores is the fact, helpfully pointed out by Marion Nestle in the linked article, that government policy already deeply shapes our food choices. Government subsidies and special breaks are exactly what makes junk food and factory-farmed meat, for example, so cheap and plentiful. (Not to mention government subsidies for the fossil fuels that power our current system of agriculture.) It’s this policy, not the “invisible hand,” that makes the “choice” of these foods easier than the choice of more healthful alternatives. (Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma spells this out in great detail.)

Not coincidentally, the outfits that campaign most vociferously against improved food safety (like the Center for Consumer Freedom) are basically front groups for industries that may be targets of regulation. It’s almost as if it’s the interests of corporations and rich people, not “freedom”, that’s being protected. Nah, that could never happen.

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