Friday, June 10, 2011

Back off: It’s my plate

Yesterday the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled the government's new nutritional chart, which you can check out at the suggestively nannyish URLs or ("Please, guv, could you choose my plate? You know best.") It's a sort of segmented cafeteria dish with unequal compartments, slightly larger for "vegetables" and "grains," slightly smaller for "fruits" and "protein," along with a "dairy" circle on the side. A few thoughts:

1.) They seem to have skipped the whole "constitutional authority for the federal government to involve itself in lecturing citizens on what to eat" section. Could it be because there is no such obvious source of authority?

2.) Given that the government has been coming out with these charts for decades, this one is admittedly easier to understand than the awful "pyramid" that came before. Pretty much any graphic they tried — even one based on a Jackson Pollock painting — would have been an improvement on that darn pyramid.
[pullquote]They seem to have skipped the whole 'constitutional authority for the federal government to involve itself in lecturing citizens on what to eat' section.[/pullqupte]

3.) There's a subliminal sort of cleverness to the chart which may offer insight into the Obama administration's thinking. It manages not to mention meat, for instance. It makes "dairy" a little blue circle so you think of nonfat milk or yogurt instead of, say, melted cheese. There's no dessert plate at all — this is the pie chart that doesn't want you to eat pie. There's also no mention of sugar or calories on the graphic, apparently on the theory that if people don't see those things on a government chart, they'll forget they like them.

4.) While clever, it's also a bit incoherent: along with food groups like grains and veggies, there appears a slice for "protein," even though there's protein in grains, dairy and so forth.

5.) Like all such recommendations out of Washington, including earlier versions that did more to push cheese and starch options, this one came out of negotiations that reflected input from farm and producer interest groups. Just something to remember before taking nutrition advice from the federal government, especially since that nutritional advice has often been wrong in the past.

6.) Accompanying the chart is a series of confidently dished-out advice tips on various other nutritional matters, such as "Enjoy your food, but eat less," "Switch to fat-free or lowfat (1%) milk," and "Choose the foods with lower [salt content]." Confident though these may be, these are simply wrong, at least if indiscriminately applied to anyone and everyone. Not all of us struggle with obesity or high blood pressure; some of us, in fact, including some who are elderly or infirm, should be encouraged to get all the calories we need. Serving kids nonfat milk is not an unambiguously good choice if it means they will choose to drink less milk. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that low-salt diets may pose their own health risks. For that matter, some people — some whole national cuisines, in fact — manage to take in an adequate nutritional balance while dispensing entirely or nearly so with categories like dairy or fruit.

7.) The wider controversy is going to be not over the chart itself, but how far the administration will go to pursue the rapidly expanding agenda of the "food policy" sector. All sorts of nannyish and coercive ideas are emerging from that sector nowadays: proposals at the FDA to limit salt content in processed foods; mandatory calorie labeling, which poses a significant burden on many smaller food vendors and restaurants; new mandates on food served in local schools; advertising bans; and on a local level efforts to ban things like Happy Meals at McDonald's. No wonder many parents, local officials and skeptics in Congress are beginning to say: Back off, guv. It's my plate.


Raw milk mania

The feds recently conducted a year-long sting operation (yes, really.) to arrest an Amish farmer for selling raw milk in DC. Fortunately, raw milk devotees have not allowed this ridiculous law to go unnoticed:

"AMERICA, sleep well. After a year of surveillance, an undercover operation, and a pre-dawn raid by gun-toting U.S. marshals, the country is safe from an Amish farmer. Dan Allgyer’s crime? Selling unpasteurized milk to a food co-op in the Washington area.

But raw-milk advocates, the feds are learning, do not go down easily. About 400 people protesting Mr. Allgyer’s arrest arrived on Capitol Hill earlier this month with a cow named Morgan, a milking stool, plastic cups, and plenty of passion. Toasting their favorite drink, they pointed out that the signers of the Constitution also drank raw milk and proclaimed “the right to choose what to eat and drink” without government interference."

Perhaps one of the reasons this story has managed to get some media attention (despite the obvious factor of an Amish man being arrested) is the complete absurdity of legislating milk.

One of my best professors in college was a progressive with whom I disagreed on…a lot, to put it mildly. He was right, however, when he said that it was always important to consider what would actually happen given a certain legislative outcome, as opposed to what our worst fears for the situation might be.

In this case, were raw milk totally legal (as it has been for most of our nation’s history), what would actually happen is that raw milk fans would keep drinking it, and everyone else would keep avoiding it. It’s not like there’s a giant Amish conspiracy to somehow slip unpasteurized whipping cream onto the shelves of your local Giant without you noticing. These people are not raw milk terrorists:

Moreover, leaving people who like their milk raw alone is not unprecedented - even in the modern developed world:

Throughout Europe, uncooked milk is the norm, dispensed in vending machines in Switzerland, Austria, France, Italy, Slovenia and the Netherlands. It is healthy, adherents say, because it contains fat that is not broken down by homogenization and is free of antibiotics and hormones, because cows are raised in small herds on pastures.

Nutritionist Sylvia Onusic, a raw milk devotee, said heating milk diminishes its taste. “Raw milk is a potential hazardous food, but only in the United States, and I guess Canada, too,” she said. (Raw milk is also banned in Australia and Scotland.) “It’s a totally different food world here. Everything is sterilized and beaten into submission.”

Unlike more polarizing substances such as marijuana and other drugs, it is difficult for me to see why anyone would even consider raw milk a serious threat - let alone organize a sting operation against an Amish farmer for selling it to willing, informed customers.

Moreover, what kind of government outlaws consumption of milk in its natural state? I don’t often use the term “nanny state,” but it’s truly appropriate here. As Ron Paul has put it, “If we are not even free anymore to decide something as basic as what we wish to eat or drink, how much freedom do we really have left?”

If you’ve got a few minutes, maybe give your rep a ring about H.R. 1830, which would legalize the sale of raw milk across state lines, removing federal authority from this totally inappropriate corner of our grocery stores to which it has crept.


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