Against the Grain


Tonight on ABC's Primetime Monday, Peter Jennings will explain "how government policies and food industry practices are helping to make Americans fat." It's not a good sign that John Banzhaf, a leading advocate of fast food lawsuits (and, more generally, of suing our way to a better world), is pleased with Jennings' take on obesity. But at least Jennings is criticizing farm subsidies. Even if they don't have much to do with why Americans are getting fatter (and I suspect they don't), it can't hurt to have another argument against them with leftward appeal. Indeed, it's a bit odd to see the Media Research Council's Free Market Project attack Jennings for attacking farm subsidies.

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  1. Coming from the Midwest, I have a deeply ingrained belief that I need large servings of fatty foods to satisfy my appetite. How did I get this idea? Was it foisted upon my by McDonald’s? No, my family is just a few generations away from hard working farmers. My great-grandparents could afford a fat-laden diet, in fact, they were probably well served by that diet considering the hard physical labor. The point is that an individual’s idea about food comes from many sources including, but not limited to, advertising, ethnic background, social class, regional differences, educational level, and so on. To blame corporation who sell the food, because they advertise their product is absurd.

  2. Neither Banzhaf’s support for the special, nor Jennings’ displeasure with ag subsidies, has anything to do with the truth or falsehood of the statements being made about the obesity epidemic.

    You shouldn’t base your judgement of a statement’s veracity on its ability to advance your agenda. It makes you sound like a Marxist.

  3. Joe-

    I don’t think anybody was saying the criticism of farm subsidies makes the special more credible, just that it’s nice to see criticism of farm subsidies.

    As for Banzhaf’s opinions, I half-agree with you. I wouldn’t automatically disagree with something just because Banzhaf likes it. But I’d approach it with more skepticism because Banzhaf has of late built his career around dubious lawsuits related to the subject matter of the Jennings special. Sort of like if a chemical manufacturer released a study showing that its newest products were safe. I wouldn’t automatically disbelieve it, but the chemical firm has a lot riding on a product that the report just happens to support.

    So, in summary:

    Automatically disbelieving something because some dubious person agrees with it = bad
    Approaching something with skepticism because some dubious person agrees with it = good

  4. Obesity “epidemic”? Do you catch obesity from fat people? The word “epidemic” is stretched and abused in so many ways that we’re in the midst of an epidemic of epidemics.

  5. Joe is like Rocky in the Vietnam of Strawmen.

  6. That probably would have been wittier if I had said Rambo like I meant to.

  7. Subsidies ARE increasing the use of corn syrup rather than suger, which has some different properties. There are some interesting hints that it’s related to obesity.

  8. The obesity argument seems pretty reasonable to me…subsidies artifically lower the price of corn, which leads to a glut in the market, which leads to a glut in the gut.

  9. I hate subsidies, but this is more hypocritical than I can stomach.

    Egad, as though Jennings would be happy with $25/ lb. ground beef so that poor people wouldn’t be tempted.

    If the subsidies died, we would have a market for food where prices meant something, which would be good. That doesn’t mean that people will suddenly demand more vegetables instead of Ho Hos.

  10. Regardless of how much of an impassioned argument against farm subsidies ABC makes, through shows like this, it is still working to create a new class of victims ready for a handout.

  11. Wicked good article on this topic in Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine. Balanced, and enlightening.

    One study blames a quarter of the increase in male obesity, and a sixth of the increase in female obesity, on declining smoking rates.

    Also, this may be the first generation of children to have a shorter average lifespan than their parents.

  12. Actually, Gary, just the other day I was walking through DQ and brushed up against someone who was as wide as they were tall. Well, I started to feel a little bit under the weather on the drive home. I didn’t think anything of it until I got out of the shower the next morning. Man boobs. It took me weeks to recover.

  13. Definitions, gentle(ha-ha)men:

    1. An outbreak of a contagious disease that spreads rapidly and widely.
    2. A rapid spread, growth, or development: an unemployment epidemic.

  14. We’re fatter because we’re wealthier than we’ve ever been as a nation, so we can afford to eat like pigs if we so desire. Low self esteem + a wallet full of cash = lard butt.

  15. fyoder-
    you didn’t think that was funny? I suppose the man boobs was a bit crass. Ever since Fight Club, the term cracks me up.

    Also, can obesity still be consider an epidemic? Since it doesn’t fulfill #1 and #2 requires that this take place in a “rapid” manner.

  16. Oh cheer up yelowd, sure it was funny, but I still take issue with folks who put too much weight on word usage, it’s just a pet peeve of mine. Words basically mean whatever most of us understand them to mean, and we know what Joe’s talking about. (BTW, another definition that I didn’t bother to copy said, “Widely prevalent,” so the rapidly part isn’t really necessary.)

    I will agree that calling the proponderance of obesity in our nation an “epidemic” is a bit melodramatic and perhaps tends to connote that the condition was thrust upon the afflicted.

  17. Odd to see that the libertarians here seem to be united in their belief that (1) economic incentives such as agricultural subsidies likely have no impact on consumer behavior, and (2) it is unlikely that government programs such as farm subsidies would have some non-obvious harmful effects.

  18. yelowd – I recently saw a preview for the movie Along Came Polly in which you get a slow-mo shot of a fat, hairy, pasty-white basketball player’s gut and Ben Stiller’s face slap together. It made me feel gross, but I thought you’d get a kick out of it. Preview seen before Master and Commander.

    fyodor – the guardians of accuracy in word usage are essential to maintaining the diversity and precision of our language. I have no reason to fear that English is in danger of collapsing, but as we use hyberbole and inexact vocabulary recklessly writers (and speakers) lose control of their message. Words convey the message the author intended, not merely what the audience hears.

  19. “Subsidies ARE increasing the use of corn syrup rather than suger, which has some different properties.”

    Not true; sugar and corn syrup each break down into half fructose and high sucrose in the body.

  20. Any chance John Stossel can have a “Give me a Break” special against fast food lawsuits on ABC next week?

  21. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/26/2004 07:38:01
    Both dreams and people crash down.

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