Food Policy

Food Policy Moves to the Fore

In what may show the coalescence of a movement, academia finally appears to embrace the idea that people want more control over their food choices.


Earlier this week the state of Maryland—where I live and am licensed to practice law—announced it was exploring the possibility of creating an agricultural law clinic. The clinic, which would allow students to act as legal advocates on behalf of the state's farmers, would be housed at the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore.

While the idea of an agricultural law clinic may strike many as somewhere between pointless and overly narrow, I take it as yet another example of the mushrooming interest among academics and the general public in the area of food law and policy.

My weekly column on food law and policy matters, which turned one-year old this month, offers one example of the existence of such a phenomenon.

But others agree that further evidence supports my argument.

For example, a recent Harvard Law School news article claims "there may be no hotter topic in law schools right now than food law and policy[.]"

"Researchers and lay readers in many diverse fields have become fascinated with food policy," says Parke Wilde, an agricultural economist and professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, in an email to me.

"I agree that food policy appears to be growing in importance," says Professor Jayson Lusk, who teaches agricultural economics at Oklahoma State University and who I interviewed here over the summer, also by email.

Though increased interest is difficult to quantify, recent examples are legion—and take many forms.

Like the clinic, though, many appear to be centered on empowering consumers and producers against regulators and their ilk.

"As a pundit once said, 'When we leave farm policy to the experts, we actually leave it to the lobbyists,'" says Wilde, himself the author of the new book Food Policy in the United States. "This book pulls open the curtains and lets any interested reader understand the fundamentals of U.S. food policy."

Lusk, too, has a new food policy book out. In The Food Police, Lusk pushes back against what he sees as a dominant, pro-regulatory bent among food writers, which he calls "condescending paternalism."

"[H]aving grown up around the many people involved in agricultural and food production, I felt that the picture painted by… popular books, TV shows, and documentaries about the state of food and agriculture was a bad caricature; it was a distorted picture of reality," says Lusk.

Still another such book, David Gumpert's Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights, is set for release this summer.

Jobs are another indicator.

"It was once the case that many of the 'experts' in food policy were housed in agricultural colleges and Universities or the USDA," says Lusk, "but there seem to be more academic jobs in this area in schools of public policy, in disciplines formerly focused on health and nutrition, and even in [m]edical schools."

Jobs like the ones Lusk mentions that may not have existed even five years ago, such as this one at UCLA, are also becoming more common.

And it no longer surprises me when I receive an email out of the blue inviting me to speak to undergraduate or law students specifically about "food freedom"—as happened most recently less than two weeks ago.

These jobs and speaking engagements echo the rise of academic coursework in food law and policy that the Harvard Law School article noted.

Christophe Hille, a food entrepreneur who is co-owner of New York City's Northern Spy Food Co. and a graduate student in nutrition and food studies at New York University, is developing a graduate-level course that he's tentatively titled "Nutrition and its Discontents."

The goal of the class, says Hille (also by email), "is to try to nurture in nutrition, public health, and food systems students a more nuanced view of scientific knowledge, individual dietary behaviors, and public policy options.

"The emergence of more multidisciplinary food policy and law programs such as [Harvard Law School's] Food Law Society suggests that others are also looking for better approaches to progress than we currently seem to have at our disposal[.]"

Across the country, academics appear to be responding to the needs and interests of Americans in new laws and policies that give them more control over their food choices. That's progress indeed.

NEXT: Watch Matt Welch on Melissa Harris-Perry's First Broadcast Since the Unpleasantness

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  1. Lets roll that beautiful bean footage!

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  2. Instead of an agricultural law clinic, wouldn’t it behoove that great state of Maryland to instead overhaul its laws and regulations in the field? Maybe to the point of not needing attorneys to specialize there? Food for thought.

    1. That’s not how MD does it. That’s why non-Marylanders fall into two groups: Those who hate the place and those who have never been there.

      1. I’ve only been through the place; I’ve never overnighted there. I guess that puts me in the second group?

      2. The Democratic People’s Republic of Maryland… I love Fort Frederick and I have good friends in Cumberland, but the rest of the state could use a Deluvian-scale flood.

      3. While driving through Maryland I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there were unspeakable acts being performed in each home I drove past.

    2. We have a “rain tax” now.

      Google it, and be glad you do not live here.

        1. Ditto.

          My sister lives in that state. Gah.

          1. Paint everything green so it all looks like a water permeable surface. Supposedly they’ll use satellite photos to calculate your run off, more concrete higher tax. Anyhow, can we all imagine the new bureaucracy and waste?

        2. And we are already in the process of widening our driveway 🙁

          1. Replace it with gravel.

      1. It was so awesome in Maryland, of course Los Angeles County is going to try it, too!


        1. Soccer balls are the number-one ball that comes down.

          See! If we stopped Mexican immigration we wouldn’t have a runoff pollution problem


        2. We HAVE to tax rainwater! Otherwise those greedy corporations might try to charge us money for using natural resources, or something!

        3. I like how counter productive projects like this are. If they really wanted to be effective they’d give you a permanent exemption for improving your property to manage runoff better. Without an exemption you’re removing any incentive for better building practices: “I’m already paying for my runnoff, why should I spend more to prevent it.”

  3. It wasn’t all that long ago when my neighbors looked at me sideways for growing my own tomatoes.

    1. Really? Where did you live, Maoist China?

      1. Virginia. It’s amazing what people can get weird about in a “nice” neighborhood. I actually got an HOA officer to publicly state she thought plants should be only decorative.

        1. I’ve never lived in a neighborhood that had a homeowners’ association, but it sounds hellish.

          My sympathies to you.

          1. Long gone. Most of my neighbors now won’t say more than “baa” or “moo.”

            1. And that’s only when you fuck them.

              1. Who do you take him for, Warty?

                He only goes for the ones that say “neigh”.

                Or maybe that’s Warty and I’m confusing the two…


              2. Maybe I forgot to mention I’m not a Marylander?

                Actually, their big response is to my dogs, both of which are herding breeds.

                1. So they respond to you fucking your dogs?


  4. Something tells me this sort of clinic is going to be taken over by the people who think “ZOMG!!!111!!! GMOs are eeeeevil!!!1!1!1!”

  5. Control freaks will never be satisfied. They got away with regulating which drugs a human may put into their own body, the next logical step is for them to feel privileged to decide which foods one may put in their bodies. Give them an inch on anything and they’ll never quit taking.

    1. Sugar is a gateway drug! Or whatever bad thing of the day!

    2. You’re the crazy one to think you own yourself.

    3. SOYBEANS!

  6. Want a wrapper-full of diabetes?
    Scientists replace chocolate’s fat with fruit juice.
    Why take out half of the one healthy thing about chocolate?

    1. Because there’s not enough kids with NAFLD. More fructose!

    2. Okay, I can’t keep up. Fat is bad again?

      Last I heard, fat was okay, sugar was bad. Chocolate was good as it has antioxidants, whatever that means, and it makes you feel like you’re in LUUUUUUV.

      What is the latest good/bad on eggs and coffee? Those two have gone back and forth more times than I can remember.

      The credibility of these researchers is shot. Perhaps not the researchers, but those who jump to conclusions, based upon incomplete research, and insist on telling us what’s healthy and what’s not.

      The science is…wait…

      1. Let me help you with what’s left:
        Water – good, but bottled water is bad. Tap water is bad because fluoride.

        1. And open water is a no-no because of cryptosporidium.

          What’s left?

          1. distilled urine

            1. -1 ke$ha

      2. I’m pretty sure the USDA recommendation ultimately hinges on whether plant life gets enough representation, and typically it’s corn and wheat getting the attention.

        Like Fed-financed economics studies, the response from nutrition researchers is fairly predictable.

        1. and typically it’s corn and wheat getting the attention.

          But, GLUTENZZZZZZ!

  7. Eggs are good. Coffee is good. Waffles taste good, but are bad.

    1. They’re finally distinguishing between population groups with a lot of this stuff. Eggs are good unless you have an albumin allergy or a family history of cholesterol, in which you should have say two eggs but take the yolk out of one. Coffee is better for women (in high doses it can help stave off Alzheimer’s) and worse for people with hypertension. Salt was good, then bad, then good, then good unless you have certain types of African ancestry and then it is highly correlated to hypertension.

      I read someplace that popcorn was healthy because it’s the only naturally whole grain snack and almost spit out my drink.

      1. There’s a big problem with the connection between salt and hypertension. Reducing salt intake by half yields maybe 1 mmhg for non-hypertensives, and maybe 5 mmhg for hypertensives. Yep, a drastic reduction in salt intake is associated with a clinically insignificant change in blood pressure.

      2. Actually, cholesterol isn’t really bad for you anymore, it’s the ratio of HDL/LDL that’s important. Although now we can divide both of them into subgroups, with SOME subgroup HDL being bad, and some LDL subgroup good.

        At any rate, I’ve never believed fat was bad in itself and I turned out to be right.

        Also…sunlight being first good for you, then in the past 20 years or so, terrible awful deadly cancer giving, etc. Now not so bad because it’s a great way to get Vitamin D, the lack of which leads to various cancers and heart problems.

        Better to eat those two eggs WITH the yolks and get some sunshine to prevent heart problems.

        1. Looking at cholesterol ratios is like looking at the color of the front yard. Spray painting the grass green might make the drought prettier, but doesn’t make the rains come.

  8. Mmmmmmmm, bacon.

  9. Is food freedom like when your food is free to run around outside of a cage? Like free range chickens? Did the chicken have a name?

  10. Earlier this week the state of Maryland?where I live

    Let me just say, you have my utmost sympathy about that.

    I am now plotting my escape to somewhere more free, like Communist China.

  11. Most of these “food freedom” guys seem to be about the government guaranteeing that no on eats HFCS, GMO, glutens, etc, etc. Even the libertarian ones. Especially the libertarian ones. They come with weird conspiracy theories about Monstanto and ADM and how they are poisoning America.

    Well fuck you! I don’t have a gluten allergy, so stop trying to ban my pasta.

    1. I eat like a predator, not like prey.
      That said, feel free to come on by and eat the kinds of things my food does.

    2. Nail on the head.

    3. Juicy steaks, eggs and bacon, fat burgers and fries for Nanny BigButt and the White House War-bangers, soybean salad for the the tax slaves!

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