Let’s Ask Marion: How Did Junk Food and Obesity Become a Red State/Blue State Debate?

With a click of her mouse, Kerry Trueman corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Feed Your Pet Right, Pet Food Politics, What to Eat, Food Politics, and Safe Food

Kerry Trueman: The “agri-culture war” that’s long been simmering is coming to a boil now, as recently noted in The Washington Post, The Daily Dish, and elsewhere in the blogosphere.

The Palin/Beck/Limbaugh axis of egos is vigorously defending junk food, lamenting the passage of the food safety bill, and decrying all efforts to address our obesity epidemic, even as David Frum, a rare voice of reason (sometimes) on the right, tells CNN that obesity poses a greater threat to our national security than, say, openly gay soldiers.

You yourself are under fire yet again (sigh) from those uber-astroturfers at the Center For Consumer Freedom for having the audacity to question whether our cherished principle of free speech entitles Big Food to emblazon the labels of its edible food-like substances with Big Lies (i.e. dubious, unproven health claims).

Why do you think that the issues of junk food and obesity have become so incredibly politicized?

Dr. Nestle: Politicized? Of course they are politicized. Junk food and obesity are key indicators of political divisions in our society. For starters, junk food is cheap and obesity is more common among low-income populations. So right away we are into divisive issues of income inequality and class and, therefore, who pays for what and which sectors of society get government handouts.

The minute we start talking about small farms, organic production, local food, and sustainable agriculture, we are really talking about changing our food system to accommodate a broader range of players and to become more democratic. Just think of who wins and who loses if $20 billion in annual agricultural subsidies go to small, organic vegetable producers who are part of their communities rather than to large agricultural producers who do not live anywhere near their corn and soybeans.

The issue at stake is who gets to decide how food is grown and what people eat. For as long as I can remember, big agriculture and big food were in control, in close partnership with congressional agricultural committees and the USDA. Today, the food movement–democracy in action, if you will–is challenging their authority and power. No wonder defenders of the status quo don’t like the challenge. It is only to be expected that they are fighting back.

I see the intensity of the debate (and, alas, the personal attacks) as a clear sign that the movement is making headway. The system is clearly changing. It has to change if we are to address obesity, climate change, and the other unsustainable aspects of our present ways of doing food business.

Anyone who is working to reduce income inequity and to make healthier food available to every American has to expect to encounter the methods corporations always use to fight critics: personal attacks, claims of junk science, invocation of personal responsibility, cooptation, and plenty of behind-the-scenes lobbying.

Telling truth to power has never been popular. But I’m convinced it’s worth doing.

Originally published on Eating Liberally

6 thoughts on “Let’s Ask Marion: How Did Junk Food and Obesity Become a Red State/Blue State Debate?

  1. This is off-topic, but since this book was mentioned here I had to say something. I was very surprised that Marion Nestle recommends such ill advise in her book Feed Your Pet Right. She recommends commercial dog foods instead of a natural, whole-food approach, just like for humans. I recommend others do their own research. A good place to start is Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.

  2. If only the food “safety” bill was really about food safety and a local, organic, and sustainable food supply. When Doritos are a govt protected class of food and raw milk is persecuted and prosecuted, health and safety are not the issue. Protectionism for Big Ag is. What happened at the Hartmann farm in MN last week is reprehensible. Giving the FDA more power is not in the interest of those on the left or the right.

  3. It became an issue because one side wants to mandate what we eat and the other side still believes we have rights. You are free to never buy junk food again. I am free to buy what I want without extra taxes or bogus propaganda campaigns aimed at me. The ONLY thing the government should do in this is make sure the food is safe.

  4. Pingback: politics & food « The Shared Table

  5. Pingback: More From the Food Culture War Front: “Team Obama Food Police” Video Attacks First Lady

  6. It was great to read about the guidelines posted by Pollen who now I can sincerely tell is the best selling food book author.

    We just grab in whatever food we get and depend too much upon junk. But surely this article will be a reminder probably for everyone small or big!!
    If you want to learn more on food and medicine then you must definitely browse through Findrxonline and learn what’s good for health.

    Regards
    Dan