Begging Obama to Be a Better Food Dictator

We need food freedom, not a food dictator.

This editorial in the Washington Post has some truthful statements but it starts with a false premise that it later retracts without acknowledging the discrepancy.

The premise is that there is no food policy in the United States. It is embodied in the headline: “How a national food policy could save millions of American lives.”

The food industry is the largest sector of our economy; food touches everything from our health to the environment, climate change, economic inequality and the federal budget. Yet we have no food policy — no plan or agreed-upon principles — for managing American agriculture or the food system as a whole.

If this were true, it would not be a problem. There should be no food policy. Human beings have survived and thrived in some cases on planet earth for thousands of years without a food policy. (These writers would unquestionably claim that humanity has survived millions of years without any policies, so their position is even more flimsy.) Imposed government food policies have a more obvious historical association with mass starvation than with good nutrition.

They try to make their position sound reasonable by defining “policy” in an idiosyncratic way that emphasizes government unity. But confused policy is still policy. The problem is not that we don’t have a food policy but that we do have one. As the writers later admit:

We find ourselves in this situation because government policy in these areas is made piecemeal. Diet-related chronic disease, food safety, marketing to children, labor conditions, wages for farm and food-chain workers, immigration, water and air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and support for farmers: These issues are all connected to the food system. Yet they are overseen by eight federal agencies. Amid this incoherence, special interests thrive and the public good suffers.

If the writers had deliberately set out to vindicate the warning of Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, they could not have done a better job. Hayek argued that all government plans bring about failure and the inevitable response is, rather than admit government failure, to claim the reason in the failure lies in democracy itself. Rather than elected legislators crafting laws for these plans, they mush abdicate to a strong man—a dictator who will force all the competing interests to bow to his will and thus bring about national salvation.

Of course, reforming the food system will ultimately depend on a Congress that has for decades been beholden to agribusiness, one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill. As long as food-related issues are treated as discrete rather than systemic problems, congressional committees in thrall to special interests will be able to block change.

But there is something the president can do now, on his own, to break that deadlock, much as he has done with climate change. In the next State of the Union address, he should announce an executive order establishing a national policy for food, health and well-being

So that’s it. We need a food dictator. Even though all the problems they point to were caused by government interfering with private business. The reason we are overwhelmed with soy and wheat and corn (and corn syrup) is because of misconceived government policy.

The only food policy we need is laissez-faire. Leave us alone?

paleo food pyramid

Will that immediately solve all problems? Of course not. Sugar tastes good. Even the food corporations cannot change that fact. But a free society does not deal with such problems by handing them over to a national food dictator. People educate themselves and make decisions for their health. There are all sorts of diet and exercise movements that are transforming people’s health: “clean eating,” the paleo and primal “diets,” the low-carb, high-fat way of eating, the Weston Price Foundation. These groups don’t agree with each other in details but they all reject the SAD (Standard American Diet).

Every time someone blends butter in their coffee, they are sticking it to American food policy. The revolution never tasted so good!

I would love it if the price of sugar and corn syrup rose so that it was not so much cheaper to eat badly. But I can still make choices for my own health and so can you. It might take some research and some sacrifices, but that’s called getting an education and correct priorities.

Do it for yourself; don’t ask the Obamas to do it for you.