Big Food ate my baby

Both this month's The Believer and this weekend's Times magazine have pieces on Big Food and obesity in America. I think the synchronic publication has less to do with editorial espionage than with Greg Critser's new book Fat Land, about which I really know nothing other than that there's a baby with a sundae on its head eating a slice of pizza on the cover.

So the point of both of the articles, and I'm assuming of the book as well, is that we're a bunch of fat-asses because the government ridiculously subsidizes agri-business, leading to so much extra food being produced in this country that new ways to consume this food have to be invented. Witness the Super Sized Extra Combo Value Meals, thousands of different kinds of snack foods, and high-fructose corn syrup, which is incredibly pervasive in prefab food and a completely empty source of calories.

Corn syrup is singled out by both articles as a leading contributor to obesity and a prime example of a product with an artificial market; it wasn't until the late '70s that high fructose corn syrup replaced sucrose (which the body metabolizes much more efficiently, they say) in just about everything, and the onslaught is directly tied to the federal farm subsidy programs of the mid-70's which made it profitable for "farmers" (read: large agricultural conglomerates) to produce as much as they can, with no regard for the actual demand.

Yes, no one is forcing you to eat all those Twinkies or drink that Coke, and we're all free to resist the advertising and eat fruits and nuts all day. I mean, I try to, but not everyone has the means to have a box full of organic produce shipped to their house every week. Fast food and junk food is cheap (artificially so) and it's what a good portion of this country consumes.

I think the real point though is this: why on earth is our government giving $19 billion a year to any industry in the first place? Even if those subsidies weren't directly contributing to the glut of cheap unhealthy food and they weren't crowding out developing nations from exporting their crops on the world market, how did we end up simply giving away all that money to private businesses in the first place? That's free market capitalism? As much as I'd love to blame Republicans for this (and these subsidies started up during the Nixon regime), Clinton did little to end corporate welfare for Big Food. Maybe ten years from now when our country is struggling to find anyone willing to lend us money so that we can fund whatever basic services haven't been cut at that point someone will realize that that $19 billion a year could have been put to better use.

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