Indeed, the “story of the changing American diet over the last 60 years is a story of junk science funded by both government and corporate interests, as well as a cascade of health panics and regulations aimed at one ‘demon’ ingredient after another,” as Michael Brendan Dougherty chronicles at The Week.
Here are 7 ways our government has screwed up Americans’ relationship with food:
Peddling bad science. Do you like eggs? I have very mixed feelings about them, but what I don’t have mixed feelings about is Washington’s inane (and only recently discontinued) policy of discouraging egg consumption. Just last year, after decades of all but insisting that eggs are going to kill you, the feds made an abrupt reversal and announced that eggs are totally fine. By then, the damage had already been done. “Egg consumption dropped 30 percent after this misguided health crusade began,” Dougherty notes.
Discouraging innovation. While eating eggs was merely discouraged, consuming alcohol has, of course, been banned outright. Now, nearly a century after Prohibition, lingering anti-innovation alcohol policies at the state and federal level are still at work. One big culprit is crony capitalism, as onerous regulations make it difficult for new brewers, distillers, and vintners to break into the beer, liquor, and wine markets. Legal changes that are easy for a Pabst or Coors factory to make, for example, come with exorbitant costs for microbrewers, making it impossible for many to stay afloat.
Banning individual choice. Do you want to drink raw milk? That can be tough to do, as raw milk continues to be illegal in many jurisdictions. Though it’s certainly true that raw milk consumption should be a well-informed decision because it isn’t what our bodies are used to processing, the ban is plain nonsensical. There are plenty of legal foods that are statistically more dangerous (compare raw milk to sprouts, for example).
Mandating futile calorie counts. Beginning in December of 2016, restaurants with more than 20 locations will be required to provide calorie information on their menus. This new mandate is part of the multi-stage Obamacare roll-out, and the idea is that if customers can see how many calories are in their burger combo meal, they might scale down their order and with it their weight. It’s a nice idea, but a study of a similar mandate in New York City reveals it will have no actual effect on ordering decisions.
Using a tariff to jack up prices and prop up bad products. If you’re a connoisseur of Mexican-made Coca Cola, you already know where I’m going with this one. “Tariffs and quotas protect U.S. sugar producers from competition by making it costly for American consumers to import sugar from other countries,” explains the Heritage Foundation’s Bryan Riley. That’s why most of our sodas are made with the cheaper (read: heavily subsidized) high fructose corn syrup—and why Mexican Coke, made with real sugar, tastes so much better than the domestic stuff. As Riley concludes, the feds should eliminate this protectionist policy and stop gouging us on sugar prices.
Confiscating raisins. It sounds like a story out of The Onion, but until last year the federal government honest-to-goodness confiscated a portion of the annual raisin crop and put it in the National Raisin Reserve, our bulwark against raisin emergencies. As you might imagine, this wasn’t popular among raisin farmers, so a pair of them decided to resist the feds and had to fight their case all the way to the Supreme Court. The good news: they won.
Destroying perfectly good crops and livestock. Raisin confiscations were bad enough, but they date back to an era when Washington straight up destroyed food in the name of artificially raising prices for farmers. During the Great Depression, “Federal agents oversaw the ugly spectacle of perfectly good fields of cotton, wheat, and corn being plowed under. Healthy cattle, sheep, and pigs by the millions were slaughtered and buried in mass graves.” That might have been a helpful policy for farms, but for the rest of the country it was terrible, as children who could have eaten those very crops suffered from malnutrition.
Thankfully, most current food policy isn’t so dire. But far too often it’s expensive, counterproductive, and outright unhealthy.