Fast Food Nation?

by Paul Schwennesen

According to Eric Schlosser, of Food Inc. fame, "The American people are becoming really, really unhealthy and this is an issue we can't just leave to individuals deciding to bicycle instead of drive their car. We need governments worldwide to be taking action to reverse the problem."

We need government action to “reverse the problem”? Why didn’t we think of that? How shrewd.

Look, I get it. A diet of Big Macs and Cherry Coke isn’t pretty. I would probably agree with Schlosser about what constitutes a healthy diet. I like a meal of fresh, locally procured produce as much as any food activist. In fact, I’ve taken my food consciousness a step further and spend most of my time and energy growing healthy food for conscientious consumers. The happy meals they make of it are a far cry from the drive-thru option, and I’m glad for that.

The difference is that I’m not attempting to foist my views of food morality through regulation. While we may share similar tastes, I draw the line at imposing it on others. I too would like to see schools serving better food and have done my small part to help it happen. I too would like to see locally raised products become more affordable and have been trimming costs to become more accessible.

But before we congratulate ourselves too primly, I’d like to point out that the despicable eating habits of the pathetic “individuals” vilified by Schlosser have already moved far ahead of him…

I first got wind of this fact during a weak moment at Wendy’s. We pulled in, trying to hide our “Grassfed Beef” emblazoned door panels. Not only do they offer a rather remarkable salad (spinach leaves, cranberries, mandarin oranges and bleu cheese), but the crafty buggers even gave the kids educational flash cards and puzzles. As our brood plowed through a package of freshly cut apples, I couldn’t help but wonder what Wendy’s was up to. Nothing good, you can be sure.

Subway is now the world’s most commonplace food joint, outstripping even the megalithic McDonald’s. Burger King is now offering their latest fare on a ciabatta bun. Ciabatta? That’s so chic, even Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize it. How are those cretins on the street to relate?

I have to credit Schlosser and his gang. The work they have done in educating the eating public is wide-ranging and important. So why not leave it there?  Why sully it with blatant attempts to push it into the realm of “governments worldwide”? Michael Pollan, a somewhat more muted activist, says it well:

I really have a lot of faith -- and I know that it's considered naive by some people on the left -- that consumers can change things. I have seen too many cases of what happens when consumers decide to inflect their buying decisions with their moral and political values. It brings about change.
Indeed it does. The vibrant social debate over what makes for good food and where to get it is an excellent one to have. But let’s keep the debate (and the choices people make) out in the open, not behind the counter of the state. The unintended consequences of state dabbling are usually too hard to swallow.

Paul Schwennesen is a PERC Enviropreneur Institute alum and a former Lone Mountain Fellow at PERC. He runs the Double Check Ranch in southern Arizona and maintains AgrarianLiberty.com.