“Congressional reluctance to favor children’s health above the rights of soft drink producers is a direct result of election laws that require legislators to obtain corporate funding for their campaigns. Like most corporations, soft drink companies donate funds to local and national candidates. More rational campaign financing laws might permit Congress to take positions based on public good rather than private greed.” p. 217, Food Politics by Marion Nestle
This quote more than perhaps any other in this 400 page tome summarizes in a nutshell what the book Food Politics is all about. It analyzes every aspect of the food industry from its marketing practices to new product development to regulation of supplements. It is a brilliant, eye opening work, which despite the fact that it was published in 2003 is as relevent if not more so today when corporate donations are even more inextricably tied to the works of Congress and the election of candidates for office.
One of the central issues at hand in the politics of food is the conflict of interest between freedom and regulation. According to Nestle, what we perceive to be our freedom to choose what we put into our bodies is not actually a result of democracy but rather a product of brilliant marketing which subliminally if not blatantly drives our decisions about consumption. The primary target of this marketing tends to be the most economically deprived and even more heinously those who cannot make sound decisions for themselves, our children.
It’s no secret that there is an obesity epidemic in this country. Statistics about current childhood obesity and estimates of the levels of obesity in the coming decades are on the news constantly. We are in a serious health crisis in this country that will not only affect our individual rights, but the economics of our future. Individuals who are dying of diseases directly attributable to diet are a burden on society and particularly in the younger set will create a serious gap in manpower in the not so distant future. For example, many of today’s kids will not be able to pass a fitness test necessary to serve in our armed forces. If there was a need to build an army and nobody is fit enough to serve our national security is in serious trouble.
Today more than ever, we have a situation where we are concerned with economic growth. Let’s face it, all businesses are alive to make a profit. That’s what business is all about. But, at what point does responsibility to society as a whole come into the picture? I’m not talking about socialism, I’m talking about the perpetuation of society and the golden rule. Should businesses be allowed to profit on the backs of those who are becoming ill and dying from what they produce? At what point does life mean more than money? It’s something we all have to ask ourselves when we step into the voting booth. Food corporations and agribusiness lobbyists are amongst the largest in the country and they are wooing candidates on both sides of the aisle.
Awareness of health and nutrition is out there and more and more people are subscribing to the tenets of farm to table and sustainability. But this represents a very small portion of our food system. While government makes it easier for corporations to produce frankenfoods with outrageous health proclamations by relaxing their regulations, it makes it increasingly difficult for small family farms to grow and sell real natural food to you and me. That’s no mistake. That is by design.
So what can you or I do about it? Money talks. Where you choose to spend your dollar speaks volumes. Your purchasing habits may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but if everyone were to act with their dollars that would send a message to these corporations where it counts, in their pocketbooks. Ultimately we have to take back control of our lives by choosing wisely and voting wisely because what is happening is not ok. Become your own advocate. And next time you are in the grocery store and deciding upon the liter bottle of sweetened cola, pass it by and purchase some juicy naturally sweet fruit instead. Your body will thank you.