A few food-related items for a tasty Saturday:
1. Jill Richardson has an interesting piece arguing that the U.S. is exporting its terrible diet and the health problems this causes to the developing world. That’s true enough. The explosion of fast food in southeast Asia led to shocking and obvious jumps in obesity rates among children from when I visited there in 1997 as compared to 2006. Mexicans have horrible diets of junk food and indeed, I’ve never been anywhere where I couldn’t find a Coke. I do want to suggest however that this isn’t an American problem so much as it is a condition of global capitalism. A lot of terrible food in Mexico is from American corporations, but Bimbo products are incredibly popular, so much so that this is a Mexican company now exporting to the U.S. to feed the growing market for its horrible food-like products here. It’s also important not to deny people’s agency in what they eat. I am the last person to underestimate the power of American cultural imperialism and advertising, but a lot of fast food satisfies our bodies in ways that may be unhealthy, but are also really geared to our taste receptors. If people actively want to eat KFC, I have a hard time telling them they should not be able to do so.
Of course, American economic expansion and capitalism can not be separated, but it’s also a lot easier to criticize the United States than to point at the real culprit of capitalism.
Nonetheless, Richardson does report on sensible policy proposals from Olivia de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, to help bring back more healthy diets:
So what should be done about the “obesogenic” global food system, according to De Schutter? He begins by endorsing taxing junk food, particularly soda, an idea that has been controversial in the United States but is already practiced in France, Denmark, Finland, and Hungary. To prevent a junk food tax from disproportionately harming the poor, De Schutter recommends using the tax revenues to make healthy foods less expensive.
De Schutter also calls for “revising” agricultural subsidies that are biased in favor of large grain and soybean producers and the livestock industry; “cracking down on junk food advertising;” growing local food systems by linking farmers with nearby urban consumers; and “regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar.” He specifically calls out marketing of infant formula, a major problem in poor nations where dishonest advertising and predatory marketing such as handing out of free infant formula samples in hospitals influences mothers, often women who can ill afford the cost of infant formula let alone the health consequences they cause for their children later in life, to stop breast feeding prematurely.
2. Speaking of capitalism and food, it’s great that the actor Wendell Pierce is working so hard to bring fresh food to African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans. And it’s a crime that an actor has to do this. We need a food equity law in this country, forcing large grocery chains to open stores in low-income areas. As part of this law, we need food regulators checking the produce and comparing it store to store, with large fines if stores in rich areas have significantly better access to fresh food and significantly better quality and freshness of the fruits and vegetables.
Healthy food is a right and should not be solely left to the profit motive.
3. Of course, fighting for decent food makes you hated on the right, as Tracie McMillan found out this week when Rush Limbaugh, looking for a new young woman to attack while he fantasizes about her, turned his guns on her and her new book (which is at the top of my reading list) The American Way of Eating. Of course, all Limbaugh is doing is helping McMillan sell thousands of copies of her book, so that’s great. I hope Rush attacks me when my book comes out. But then I’m not a woman so Rush doesn’t automatically hate me for stepping out of the domestic sphere.
4. And let us not forget food workers fighting for themselves, as Sarah Jaffe reminds us in her piece on the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the tomato workers’ union in Florida who are fighting against horrible conditions and low wages for workers who are not as far as away from near-slavery as you’d like to think.