op-ed

Do our diets have to be progressive too?

Natasha Mayer Political Consultant
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Put the cauliflower down. I know it’s on your list of New Year’s resolutions to eat healthier, but you don’t know anything about that vegetable on your plate. Have you checked its papers? Is it organic? Local? Sustainable? Will eating it increase your carbon footprint? How many hummingbirds were harmed in its cultivation?

In an apparent quest to confuse us into health, government at all levels has added layer upon layer to our eating guidelines in the forms of food and product bans, labeling laws, school lunch programs, subsidies for sustainable foods and taxes on the groceries we actually enjoy. It’s no longer enough to be thin. Now we need to be sustainably, organically, progressively thin.

The First Family has attempted to get in on the act by setting an example for a nation so obviously devoid of healthy role models. After their pediatrician told her that Malia and Sasha were getting “chubby,” Michelle Obama decided to make it her mission to whip not only her own kids, but all of America into shape. Her non-partisan, non-political project as First Lady is to tackle childhood obesity with a $5 billion expansion of federal programs, inflating the roles of unionized school workers. Oh, and she planted a garden at the White House.

The garden is meant to be a model to citizens to eat more fresh, locally grown food. Just in case we didn’t get that message from the Obamas, farm subsidies and state government tax breaks for “sustainable agriculture” are already charging taxpayers for food they may or may not want to eat. In reality, commercial consolidation of farms makes food production more efficient, allows for mass harvesting and thus provides cheaper food. Producing “organic” and “local” raises the price of the healthiest foods for the people already least able to afford it, weighing down their diet with processed, less expensive foods. Why are consumers being asked to pay more for our “organic” cauliflower?

But is the pricier cauliflower any better than the regular cauliflower? Contrary to progressives’ insistence, not everything at the organic market is low calorie or even healthy. Olive oil has more calories per tablespoon than lard or shortening, high-fructose corn syrup is nutritionally equivalent to table sugar, farmed salmon has higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids than the wild variety and studies show organic carrots taste no better than the regular kind.

The branch of the USDA responsible for labeling food items as organic is the AMS, the Agriculture Marketing Service. That’s right, the people responsible for regulating what is called organic are actually salespeople helping to market and export those products. Items labeled organic are definitely no safer than processed foods. For proof, see recalls of organic peanut butter (bird droppings), organic alfalfa sprouts (salmonella) and the Christmas Eve takedown of Whole Foods’ gingerbread houses for staph bacteria. Yikes.

In a recent discourse on sustainable eating, one food critic generously offered the humble home cook a recipe to produce food with “organic” ingredients—described as devoid of additives, preservatives, trans fats, artificial flavorings or ingredients and which require less energy, water and “land-per-calorie.” All these sacrifices are intended to reduce our ominous “carbon footprints.” What was this magic recipe? A stir-fry. After all that, I’d personally rather just grab a burger.

Wait. I can’t just order a burger. Definitely not in that bastion of healthy living, New York City, anyway, and not the way I like it. Billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, our Patron Saint of the Snow Plow, has waged a tax war on salt, trans fats, sugar and the soda to wash it all down. Even if I convince the chef to look the other way and load me up with the good stuff, the menu label, complete with calorie count, will be staring me in the face.

Many states and cities have mandated that nutritional labels be placed on restaurant menus as well as packaged foods, even though studies have shown that while nutritional labels increase consumer awareness, they have little impact on actual calorie consumption. People who know the nutritional value of their food will still choose to eat what they want. Calorie counts for fruits and vegetables are even emblazoned across produce bags. Turns out one-fifth of a medium cauliflower has 18 calories. Good to know.

But what can I pair with that unsalted, unbuttered cauliflower wedge? The government has an answer for that, too! The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, while not saving whales or tracking global warming, has suggested we can save the earth by eating “predator” species such as lionfish. Some fisheries have even kicked around the concept of rebranding the hard-to-catch Asian carp the “Kentucky Tuna.” Not as catchy as flounder, but at $24 a pound, what’s not to love? Other invasive species to whet the palette are feral pigs, armadillos, pigeons and Canada geese. Yum.

Don’t misunderstand my point, there’s nothing wrong with doing well by our bodies and the environment, but government cannot tax people into health, and it should not be in the business of regulating its citizens slim. Even the Obamas have trouble sticking to the “organic,” sustainable diet full-time. The First Lady recently treated her staff to milkshakes, and Mr. Obama introduced the Russian president to the great American cheeseburger and often partakes in fatty, “unhealthy” foods. But shush, don’t tell Michelle. The truth is, the administration can’t live up to its own standards. Progressives don’t really want us to be healthier or more like them, they just want to control how we behave.

Natasha Mayer is a political consultant in Washington, D.C.