Mrs. Obama’s second-term agenda: Impacting “the nature of food in grocery stores”
posted at 1:21 pm on September 4, 2012 by Erika Johnsen
So, what I’m hearing is, it’s pretty much the same as the old agenda, except perhaps ramped up another nanny-state notch.
In a yet another classic case of an inefficient, meddlesome bureaucracy attacking the symptoms instead of the disease (and causing a whole host of costs, inefficiencies, and waste in the process), the federal government via First Lady Michelle Obama has made it their business to “solve the problem of obesity within a generation.” In an audacious display of utter disdain for free-market signals, part of this effort includes nineteen separate government programs that aim to eliminate “food deserts” — areas where fresh, nutritious food is ostensibly hard to come by — by subsidizing the availability of fresh produce and whatnot in these supposedly underserved areas. The effort has already proved demonstrably inefficient, but when has that ever stopped bureaucratic do-gooders on a big-government tear? And now it sounds like she wants to not only make healthy food more available, but to make unhealthy food less available. From CNSNews:
Asked by Parade magazine, “What do you hope to accomplish in your second term?” First Lady Michelle Obama said she wants to “impact the nature of food in grocery stores” with the aim of cutting sugar, fat and salt.
“With ‘Lets Move!,’ our goal is to end the problem of childhood obesity in a generation,” Mrs. Obama said. “And while we’ve seen some very profound cultural shifts, we still have communities that don’t have access to affordable and healthy foods. We still need to find a way to impact the nature of food in grocery stores, in terms of sugar, fat, and salt.”
Mrs. Obama also discussed the challenge of “educating families” on healthy lifestyles in a society where “TV is rampant.”
I don’t really have a problem with the First Lady of the United States working to combat childhood obesity, in theory. Obesity is a serious and far too rampant problem in this country, and if Michelle Obama wants to use her platform as a public figure to champion the cause, traveling around to schools to educate kids and parents about healthy lifestyles or advocating on behalf of a worthy foundation or something — great. What I most certainly do have a problem with is the federal government using public resources and policy fiat to construct the bike-path-using, salad-eating, quinoa-cookin’ society of their crunchiest daydreams because that’s how they think society should look.
Bureaucratic endeavors to instill top-down virtue almost never fail to fall spectacularly flat, and usually come with a whole mess of unintended consequences and hidden costs, or even end up achieving the opposite of their intended effect. (Example: One of the reasons corn syrup, a.k.a. the sweetener in many processed foods, is so cheap is because the federal government subsidizes the corn industry to spur ethanol production — which in turn, by the way, incentivizes the agriculture industry to bring even more marginal land area into production. The road to obesity runs through chopped-down forests and is paved with good intentions. Dizzying, isn’t it?)
Besides, it’s really just not a good idea for the government to be involved in telling us what we should and shouldn’t be eating. Food can be a tricky business, and the scientific community is always telling us new and conflicting things. The conventional wisdom à la the old USDA food pyramid used to be that bread/cereal/grains/pasta should take up the largest portion of your diet, while you should barely eat any fat at all; now there’s a bunch of data and studies corroborating that white flour and starch is just about the worst thing you can eat and that a larger helping of certain types of fat (omega-3 fatty acids, for instance) is not only desirable but necessary for a well-rounded diet. I’ve also heard about studies suggesting that adult human beings really aren’t meant to ingest dairy, and that we shouldn’t be eating so much fruit because all of the sugars. Who knows what’s next? Maybe we’ll find out that high levels of sodium are actually the best thing since sliced bread! The science is too changeable and political, so maybe these decisions are better left up to individual choice rather than the government’s oh-so-august endorsement.
Anyhow, as I’ve argued before, the best, most penetrating way to encourage the largest number of people to become more health-conscious and to devote more of their time and resources to what they eat is to also encourage an economically robust, prosperous, growing society in which individual incomes are constantly on the rise. Subsidizing more produce in urban grocery stores and going deeper into debt to start up more after-school sports programs ain’t gonna’ cut it. More wealth is the only thing that’s ever going to effectively establish more Whole-Foods type communities across the country, and President Obama’s first-term agenda — more taxes, ObamaCare, a regulatory explosion, etcetera — didn’t do much for the cause.