Food Policy and Politics

The 4th module in the eCornell Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate was the most enraging block of information for me. I’ll try to summarize without writing a rant-filled novel here. I can’t stand trickery and shenanigans from lobbying groups.

All of this has to do with agricultural production, deciding which crops to grow and government programs like school meals, SNAP, and WIC. Also, Health and Human Services that develop/update dietary guidelines every 5 years and the USDA that regulates food safety for meat, eggs, and dairy. Side note: Speaking of food safety in the pork industry, did you all hear about this?

There was a discussion about how lobbying works and their PR tactics. Long story short, these lobbying groups are sneaky and shady as all heck. Like how they distract with “education”, like the ads in school that make it seem like soda is fine as long as you exercise. Or how these lobbying groups co-opt scientific research by paying off researchers. Lastly, we need to watch out for front groups that aren’t transparent about their activities. They use vague buzzwords to make it seem like they are legit organizations, they attack and distract, they create fake grassroots organizations, and use fear mongering tactics (think about the NY soda tax and they tried to make it like NY was trying to ban people from having their sodas). These front groups are actually funded by large organizations, basically hiding behind a different name.

I won’t get too much into the politics of dairy other than to say that they have stealthily increased our consumption of dairy, namely in the form of cheese. (Cheese is in everything and in increasing quantities.) Because of the dairy lobby, it is the only *required* food in school meals.

Moving on to check off programs, and I had no idea that the “Got milk” and “Milk Life” programs are to promote dairy using federally mandated industry fees collected from milk producers. I guess it never occurred to me who was paying for those dairy campaigns. I also had no clue that some of the fast foods are funded by the dairy check off program. We had Domino’s pizza back when I was in school and I kinda wondered how that deal came about.

I grew up with the Food Pyramid and I was only vaguely aware of the 2005 My Pyramid. It looked extra confusing and distracts us with exercise. I believe in exercise but I don’t think we can exercise our way out of a bad diet. Then in 2010, we got the My Plate and I’m not sure any of these colorful pictorials are making much difference in our diet choices.

Now I’m reading A Big Fat Crisis and I’m finding myself agreeing so much with the suggestions in this book. Cohen is right-on when she talks about the constant availability of food (and drink) and we are constantly in a state of decision-fatigue. Think about all the choices you make in a store and by the time you get to check-out, you are decisioned out. It’s almost impossible to resist the snacks and candies at the register. I find it especially annoying that places like Kohl’s and Michael’s sell candy at the registers. These aren’t grocery stores! Not to mention CVS, who stopped selling cigarettes (kudos on that one), but have several aisles of candy and junk foods.

Cohen suggests that only food stores should be selling food and maybe we shouldn’t have constant access to drive-thru windows. Like, maybe drive-thru should be available only from 12-1 and 5-7 pm. If you want fast food during non-meal hours, you have to go inside, making you think that decision over a little bit. For me, with 2 kids, especially when they were younger, getting everyone ready and into the car was enough of a deterrent to keep me away from Starbucks. I’d want it but it was too much work so I’d make coffee at home. I think that maybe we’ve made food a little too convenient, particularly foods that are terrible for us. And even with the calories labeled, we still aren’t clear that a single meal out could easily exceed the calories we need for the day.