Sunday, December 30, 2007

Weekend Update

Michael Pollan's seminal book on the U.S. food chain is called The Omnivore's Dilemma. I think it would more properly be called "The Food Paradox," wherein the corporatization of what we eat--arising from the capitalist maxim that greed is good--has brought us to a place where the most abundant and least expensive food makes us fat and sick, while healthy foods increasingly become unobtainable to the average citizen.

Adam Smith declared that profits for the individual would create riches for the many. And as far as our consumer wants are concerned, Smith has been proved abundantly correct (so long as supplies last, of course). But what Smith failed to foresee were the unintended consequences--the societal costs--of glorifying the profit motive. Disease, pollution, global warming, ecosystem destruction--none of these were on Smith's radar screen, yet they emerge with increasing clarity as the central motif in our national food debate.

Something is amiss when government works hand-in-and with profit-oriented corporations to produce foods that make the citizenry dull and sick, that pollute water and air, that ravage the soil and wildlife, that devour finite resources and violate international trade agreements.

Here is the latest: the U.S. Department of Agriculture will pay farmers to plant genetically engineered seed produced by Monsanto. Apparently, these Franken-crops lower the risk on federal crop insurance policies. Who benefits from such arrangements? Or is there some long-term consequence that might affect us all?

Michael Pollan has a much better grip on these issues than I do and now he has a new book--In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. Kat, over on the Eating Liberally blog, obtained a review copy and lays out the main points under the headline, "Pollan Declares War on Western Diet." It's worth a read.

*****

How hard will the peddlers of bottled water fight to keep their business? An alliance of bottlers and retailers say they will file suit against the city of Chicago when a 5-cent tax on bottled water--the first of its kind in the nation--goes into effect in 2008.

Localities have come to hate the bottled water craze. Why? Well, because of the 85 million empty plastic bottles produced daily in this country, all requiring some sort of disposal. In most places, plain old ordinary tap water is just as good if not better than the bottled variety. But of course billions of dollars in sales are at stake.

Retailers have trotted out the usual arguments: Consumers will flee Chicago if they are forced to pay a tax on their water bottles. The tax would threaten jobs, wages!

Sigh...

*****

Perhaps less amusing is how corporate and government interests align against the health of the nation's children. Recently we reported on "food deserts," or areas where healthy foods are not available because of the absence of full-service groceries. Most often it's the urban poor who find themselves in food deserts.

But a new study shows that there's no such thing as a fast-food desert where school children are concerned. One-third of the nation's middle and high schools are located within a half-mile of a fast-food outlet or convenience store. And in the 20 largest U.S. cities, two-thirds of urban secondary schools had at least one fast-food restaurant within walking distance, and more than half had a convenience store within a half-mile.

Bon appetit...

3 comments:

onestraw said...

The Food Deserts are telling, more so for me is that we are the only culture in the world where the poor have higher rates of obesity than the middle class, rather than the expected emaciation seen in the rest of the world. HFCS is cheap!

Why again do we tax things we like (income, etc) and subsidize the things that poison (oil, coal, ADM, etc)? Oh, right... we also have the lowest voter turnouts of the Free World.

Ed Bruske said...

Rob, we've all been turned into lab rat consumers. Citizenship seems to be the farthest thing from anyone's mind. Did they stop teaching that in school?

Jenna said...

Should we be at least happy at the thought that the walking distance fast food/quickie marts might mean at least some of these kids have to hoof it to get their junk fix?

Who am I kidding. The real horror isn't the close proximity... its the fact their loving families will shlep them back and forth to get their hit.

So sad to look back and realize at 28 I'm old. For pities sake, when I wanted to spend some money on icecream or pop, I had to ride my bike 3 miles each way to the tiny town nearest us. No wonder my folks didn't crab at me ruining my appetite for dinner.