Monday, May 3, 2010


What is freedom? One of my college professors, after giving a long series of possible answers, concluded by saying that maybe freedom is just another word for noth'n left to lose. Sing it Janice.

I ask this because much of the debate over food and food policy centers on freedom. Conservatives-libertarians say it's "nanny state-ism" for the government to try to get people to eat better. As free individuals, we have the right to eat what we want.

The standard liberal response is that everyone pays the price of poor nutrition in the form of bigger outlays for Medicare and Medicaid and higher private insurance rates, so the government needs to act. They don't completely shy away from the nanny state argument, saying that government has a responsibility to assure the common good.

It seems to me that both these arguments miss that mark. Why? Because personal freedom when it comes to eating has telescoped drastically in the last 20 to 30 years.

You can't exercise freedom without choice and accurate information. The food industrial complex -- with a huge assist from the federal government -- has largely taken away both. Most of what we eat is pre-determined by marketing so slick and pervasive that we don't even perceive it.

Choice? Well how can you have choice when virtually every restaurant in America uses hamburger from the same handful of companies, all of it raised and processed on giant feed lots? It all tastes the same.

As my mother likes to say, you don't know what you like, you like what you know.

Libertarians need to concede that incredibly sophisticated marketing and over-concentration of the food industry undermine individual choice and freedom, problems the government helped create and only it can undo.

Liberals should stop sounding like they want to micromanage people's diets, decreeing what is good and bad, and instead frame their policies as using government to restore food freedom and choice to Americans.

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