American Elephants

The Federal Fixation on Food. Haven’t They Got Something Useful to Do? by The Elephant's Child

Until the second half of the Twentieth Century, public medicine — that which is concerned with community-wide prescriptions — was largely focused on the germs that cause  infectious disease.  Advances in microbiology have led to the development of vaccines and antibiotics that eliminated or controlled diseases like Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella and  Hepatitis among others.

As the threat of communicable diseases declined. public health became more interested in the other killers like heart disease and strokes.  The death rates for those seemed to be increasing after World War II.  Some suggested that the rise was attributable to better diagnostic procedures, but one theory blamed the problem on the American diet, especially cholesterol, and we were off to the races.  Studies were inconclusive, and the influence of diet was not clear.  In 1969 the National Institutes of Health found no hard evidence that what people ate had a significant impact on heart disease.

In the 1970s Democrat senator George McGovern’s Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (never underestimate the things that Congress wants to control) chose to make recommendations about what we should eat: less fat, less meat, fewer dairy products, more carbohydrate, less cholesterol. Arguments on the senate floor.  Complaints from the experts. The opposite of current recommendations. Typical.

The Population Bomb, Paul Erlich’s prophecy of mass starvation appeared in 1968; in 1971 Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet extolling the virtues of vegetarianism appeared.  We had National Food Day, attacks on beef, and ongoing and increasing arguments about food. We are at present in a low carbohydrate phase, the reverse of government’s earlier recommendations.

Well, now they’re after the schoolchildren.  We may or may not have an “epidemic” of childhood obesity.  Australia had an “epidemic” of childhood obesity a while back, when common sense prevailed and they decided that the ‘epidemic” was nonsense and dumped all official attempts to address it. I haven’t seen a lot of fat kids, but I have certainly witnessed enormous amounts of hype about the horrors of obese children.  I’m suspicious. The government, however, is heavily invested.

Regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture assume that their new federal rules to make school lunches healthier will result in healthier kids.  Unnecessarily eliminating salt makes food taste bad, and meals that kids don’t like end up in school garbage cans. The total cost for the new rules is estimated to reach $6.8 billion.

The latest proposal is eliminating white potatoes (no tater tots or french fries which kids love), more sweet potatoes.  Good luck with that. Schools in Texas are spending $2 million to install cameras that will monitor the calorie intake of students. Lunch trays will have bar codes, so they know which kids are cheating? Schools have been struggling for years to find things that kids will eat.

I suspect that the national menu will turn out to be another failed effort that will not produce healthier kids, but simply waste tons of food.  Perhaps in the future, attention may turn to all the playgrounds which have eliminated any equipment or game that kids think is fun, in the name of safety and noncompetitiveness, insurance costs and world peace.  Playgrounds have become boring, vigorous games can no longer be played (no tag), public swimming pools have closed,  it’s hard for kids to be kids.

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