Friday, April 24, 2009

The politics of food

Capitalism is so despised among many on the left that they even seek to portray some of its achievements as indictments of its failings. One such area is obesity. While undeniably a problem in this country it is also a testament to how readily available and cheap food has become. This is not the norm, with pursuit of sufficient sustenance a near full-time occupation for most people throughout recorded history.

Indeed, the ease of obtaining food has not gone unnoticed in the developing world as demonstrated by this anecdote from Dinesh D'Souza:
I asked [an acquaintance of mine from Bombay], "Why are you so eager to come to America?" He replied, "I really want to live in a country where the poor people are fat."
Indeed, contrary to medieval Europe where having a bit of cushion was considered a display of wealth we now live in an age where obesity is disproportionately found among the poor while the rich strive for an image of thinness. This, in turn, has caused some researchers to claim that being poor causes obesity as the poor can't afford healthy food:
Many strategies for health promotion over the years have presumed that good nutrition was simply a matter of making the right choices. Drewnowski noted that access to healthier diets could be sharply limited in low-income neighborhoods simply because of the food environment and the nature of the available food supply.

“It is the opposite of choice,” Drewnowski said. “People are not poor by choice and they become obese primarily because they are poor.”

Drewnowski and Specter concluded that continuing to recommend costly foods to low-income families as a public health measure can only generate frustration among the poor and less well-educated. Americans are gaining weight while consuming more added sugars and added fats. They urge that issues of food costs demand attention.

“There is a need for governmental and policy interventions when it comes to the obesity epidemic,” Drewnowski said. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture is addressing this issue with vigor. Government agencies and private foundations have identified childhood obesity as a priority area and are looking for ways to improve nutrition in the schools.”

This is of course ridiculous, and the claim for more government intervention predictable. First off, if poverty dictated obesity the country would have been at its most rotund during the Great Depression. But also consider the following:

The long term trend in real (inflation adjusted) prices is down.

It requires less and less of our paychecks to get enough to eat.

The reality is that obesity is typically a result of one's individual choices. That is an inconvenient truth for those that prefer to cast the poor as perpetual victims and advocates for government intervention to address an alleged systemic problem.

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