The Food Fascists

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was a vegetarian, don't you know.
was also an anti-smoker…militantly so."


who are surprised by the vigor of the recent push toward a Fat Tax
on junk-food have not been paying attention to an important political
trend. Julia Child called it "food naziism." Others call
it the real food movement; it advocates taxes, in one form or another,
on "unhealthy" food choices in much the same manner as
sin taxes are currently imposed upon tobacco and alcohol. The tax
advocated is not always a direct one. Sometimes it consists of imposing
government policies that would discourage certain agricultural or
mass processing practices.

cover of Real
Food for a Change
– a recently published political
manifesto that masquerades as a book on health through food –
declares, "[T]he simple act of eating can: boost your health
and energy, knock out stress, revive your community, clean up the
planet." The authors' arguments slide from almost trite observations
about the value of fresh produce to an explicit cry for food "justice."
Thus Chapter 4, "Avoid Gassy Foods," segues into Chapter
5, "Set the Table for the Future," which calls upon local
governments to exert greater control over the food supply and public
health policy to ensure a just future. It is a future in which unhealthy
food choices will be discouraged by government policy, if not outright

people constitute a food police who wish to censor what you eat
in much the same manner as their more intellectual counterparts
wish to censor what you read. Their purpose is the same. They wish
to keep you pure.

term "food police" became prominent in the news some years
ago, especially when applied to the Center
for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
. Established in 1971
by scientists affiliated with Ralph Nader, the CSPI's focus has
shifted over time from anti-nuclear advocacy to public policy on
food. For example, the CSPI was a leader in the fight against the
use of the fat-substitute olestra in potato chips, which erupted
a few years back. To some observers, CSPI's stance on olestra must
have seemed counterintuitive. The organization is one of the voices
that has made phrases such as "artery-clogging fat" commonplace
in modern dialogue.

anti-olestra stance becomes perfectly predictable, however, in the
context of CSPI's political mission: to use food and people's health
fears to control government policy. Their vision allows no room
for a mass-producing corporation like Frito-Lay to provide food
solutions, no matter how well-tested. (After all, this is the same
organization that made the sensational announcement carried far
and wide by mass media: a substantial percentage of teenagers receive
twenty-five percent of their calories from soda pop. Their subsequent
announcement that the data had been overblown by one hundred percent
received barely a mention.) Nor does the scaremongering CSPI's vision
allow for individual choice. Indeed, the mission is so powerful
that CSPI does not balk at the unPC cultural imperialism involved
in condemning certain ethnic cuisines. It attacks the heritages
embodied by food served in Italian, Chinese, and Mexican restaurants
seemingly with no awareness of the cultural arrogance of this position.

the logo of a happy cartoon-potato and a happy carrot giving each
other the high-five, the CSPI calls for ramming these vegetables
down the throats of the public. Consider a June 1st Press
Release that proudly declared, "Health advocates at the Center
for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Yale University recommended
in a paper in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health
that soft drinks and snack foods be taxed to provide funding for
nutrition and health campaigns." The CSPI's Nutrition Action
Healthletter is reported to have almost a million member-subscribers
who, presumably, support such Twinkie taxes. The new report cites
a report drafted by Michael Jacobson, executive director of the
CSPI and Kelly D. Brownell, a professor of psychology at Yale University,
who recommend a one-cent tax on every pound of snack food and every
twelve ounces of soft drink. The report skips over the fact that
the "anti-McDonald's" tax is a levy on human beings not
upon faceless corporate America, and that the people most affected
will be the poor who spend more of their money on food – especially
fast food.

Brownell's co-authorship of the report is no surprise. Brownell, a
director of Yale's Center for Eating and Weight Disorders – has
become prominent as the research muscle that backs up and, so, legitimizes
the food fascists' political agenda. In 1998, for example, during
a push to tax everything from tobacco to beer, Brownell was widely
quoted as saying, "To me, there is no difference between Ronald
McDonald and Joe Camel. Are we going to have legislation tomorrow?
No. But we have to start thinking about this in a more militant way."
The Boston Herald quoted Brownell as condemning our society
as a "toxic food environment" in which 300,000 people die
each year of obesity-related diseases. Astutely, the Herald
observed "Brownell's plan [to tax unPC foods] takes a page straight
out of the playbook used against the tobacco industry." No wonder
the professor
won the 1998 Nanny Award
presented each year to the person who
has "shown outstanding initiative, creativity and determination"
in protecting us against ourselves.

quoting Brownell on Ronald McDonald, the New Republic asked,
"Is it really such a crazy idea?" The New Republic had
apparently picked up the quote from an editorial in the Wall
Street Journal, which warned against a slippery slide. If public
policy can be based on the idea of hamburgers causing cancer, how
long will it be before people sue because of illness rooted in the
special sauce? The New Republic countered that the Wall
Street Journal was making a false assumption: namely, that "the
human mind is like the canine mind; once legislators get a taste
of blood, they won't know where to stop." If the drug war –
another moral crusade against ingested substances – is any
indication, the Wall Street Journal's assumptions are impeccable.

the PC food agenda has stimulated some backlash within other areas
of the political correctness. Jody Abrams of the National Association
to Advance Fat Acceptance accuses the likes of Brownell of denigrating
fat people. She refers him to the growing body of evidence that
concludes "It's less about the number on the scale and more
about exercise and what you put in your body." As long as the
PC pundits are feasting n each other, perhaps the rest of us will
remain free to chomp the chimichangas and General Gao's chicken
that have been singled out for special condemnation by the culinary

13, 2000

McElroy is author of The
Reasonable Woman
. See more of her work at
and at her personal website.

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