November 11, 2010
It was a beautiful drive down to Princeton yesterday, the sun illuminating the bright yellow trees lining the road along the way.
And it was a beautiful hall, all carved antique wood, where Marion Nestle, David Kessler and I sat down to discuss the politics of food and health care.
But it was not a beautiful discussion. Interesting, yes. But ultimately depressing. They each began by addressing what they consider the major problem with the current food system. For Marion it is that the government encourages farmers to produce too much food – and then encourages us to eat it. That is the basis of our obesity problem.
David does not dispute that. He agrees with it. But for him the basic problem is that we are literally being addicted to food; that the food companies are creating combinations of fat, sugar and salt that are driving us to overeat. We cannot help ourselves. And so we continue to eat to excess, even when we know we shouldn’t. Even when we don’t want to. As he says, “Everybody in America’s on a diet; everybody’s living in inner torment.”
We are all agreed on these basic facts. The question is, what do we do about it? And that’s where the most depressing part comes in. Because these politically connected people (David, after all, was the FDA commissioner who took on cigarettes), both believe that there are only two paths to political change. Campaign laws must be rewritten to prevent large corporate contributions. And the first amendment must no longer be interpreted as protecting advertising as free speech. Until that happens, political change is not possible.
In other words, change is up to us. They both believe that it is going to take grassroots efforts to change the current system. The upside? They both believe it’s possible. But it’s going to require a lot of work.
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