FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trimming the Fat Off Fast Food Subsidies?

If you’re like a lot of Americans, you just made a New Year’s resolution to eat more healthily in 2011, possibly by swearing off fast food. But guess what? The U.S. government is using your own tax dollars to undermine those good intentions. The New York Times recently reported that an organization called Dairy Management, created and funded in part by the United States Department of Agriculture, spent $12 million helping Domino’s design and market its new “Wisconsin 6 cheese” pizza. This monstrosity offers four varieties of cheese on top, two more in the crust, and fully a third of the average daily serving of saturated fat in one slice.

Dairy Management is charged with getting rid of the nation’s cheese surplus, a surplus due to overly productive dairy farmers, and also to changes in consumer taste. Prodded by public health campaigns over the years, American consumers increasingly opt for low-fat milk. This results in vast residues of milk fat skimmed from the nation’s dairy supply, which are then processed into cheese … that the USDA sees fit to market. In addition to the “Wisconsin 6 cheese” pizza, Dairy Management has also helped develop Burger King’s “Cheesy Angus” bacon cheeseburger (10 grams of saturated fat – half your daily serving) and Taco Bell’s steak quesadilla (12 grams of saturated fat).

This is, of course, government waste at its finest. Michelle Obama wages a war against childhood obesity, while the Department of Agriculture (also part of the executive branch) is busy helping expand the frontiers of fast food extravagance. USDA policy here is not only counterproductive and inane, I’d like to submit, but also cruel.

A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last year ranked the states according to obesity rates, and revealed that our thinnest state in 2010 (Colorado) has a higher rate of obesity than our fattest state in 1991 (Mississippi, which still ranks No. 1). This is mind-boggling — especially when you consider how the past two decades have seen a boom in diet products, exercise crazes, competing diet regimes and general calorie consciousness. What is going on here?

A good deal of blame is owed to our long-standing, wrongheaded federal farm policy, of which Dairy Management is only the latest and most grotesque symptom. Our government has long subsidized overproduction of corn and soy, the building blocks of processed and fast food. As a result, the number and variety of those foods have proliferated over the years, and the cost to consumers seems to plummet ever lower.

Nearly every fast-food chain offers a dollar menu these days. Wendy’s includes a double cheeseburger for 99 cents. Burger King offers a four-patty burger for under $5 (the “BK quad stacker”) – with 28 grams of saturated fat. The 7-Eleven’s shelves are weighed down with two-liter sodas, often on sale for less than a dollar apiece. Thanks to our farm policy, cheap calories rush at the consumer from all sides, and unfortunately they are too often the wrong kinds of calories. Fruits and vegetables are not privy to the same government generosity as corn and soy.

It’s no wonder, then, why low-income families opt for processed and fast foods – especially in a recession. This also explains why we are the first society in history whose poor suffer disproportionately high levels of diabetes, obesity and hypertension, formerly afflictions of the overindulgent upper classes. Furthermore, it’s a travesty that these afflictions bear down on those most likely to lack health insurance.

Beyond the poor, though, we are growing fatter as a nation. Nearly every socioeconomic group in America is seeing a rise in health concerns due to diets high in fat, sugar and sodium. And if these health concerns are not enough to get everyone’s attention, perhaps the budgetary implications will.

As the new session of Congress opens, members of Congress and the president are engaged in a showdown over spending reforms to reduce the federal budget. Hot-button topics include expiring tax cuts and trimming military expenditures. Federal food and farm policy gets hardly a mention, probably because that spending is diffuse and difficult to put a finger on; also because the farm bill, for example, is relatively modest in the scheme of things ($288 billion over five years).

But this policy has dire ramifications down the line.  It clearly impacts the fortunes of Medicare and Medicaid, which already strain the federal budget and are forecast to expand as the Baby Boomers move into old age (the first boomers turned 65 this week). Budgetary negotiations will be a long, bloody process, no doubt, but reforming food and farm policy would make for a healthy start – and a New Year’s resolution that we can all stand behind.??

FIRMIN DeBRABANDER is a Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

 

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail