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
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
Lawrence Ware
All Hell Broke Out in Oklahoma
Donny Swanson
Janus v. AFSCME: What’s It All About?
Will Podmore
Brexit and the Windrush Britons
Brian Saady
Boehner’s Marijuana Lobbying is Symptomatic of Special-Interest Problem
Julian Vigo
Google’s Delisting and Censorship of Information
Patrick Walker
Political Dynamite: Poor People’s Campaign and the Movement for a People’s Party
Rob Seimetz
We Must Stand In Solidarity With Eric Reid
Missy Comley Beattie
Remembering Barbara Bush
Wim Laven
Teaching Peace in a Time of Hate
Thomas Knapp
Freedom is Winning in the Encryption Arms Race
Mir Alikhan
There Won’t be Peace in Afghanistan Until There’s Peace in Kashmir
Robert Koehler
Playing War in Syria
Tamara Pearson
US Shootings: Gun Industry Killing More People Overseas
John Feffer
Trump’s Trade War is About Trump Not China
Morris Pearl
Why the Census Shouldn’t Ask About Citizenship
Ralph Nader
Bill Curry on the Move against Public Corruption
Josh Hoxie
Five Tax Myths Debunked
Leslie Mullin
Democratic Space in Adverse Times: Milestone at Haiti’s University of the Aristide Foundation
Louis Proyect
Syria and Neo-McCarthyism
Abel Cohen
Forget Gun Control, Try Bullet Control
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard