Big Brother at Your Table
The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate, by Jayson Lusk (Crown Forum, 240 pp., $24)


Great self-confidence, combined with a highly ideologized view of food issues, is a syndrome afflicting much of the food-police establishment. Lusk doesn’t deny that there are problems with food production and manufacturing in America. He shares the food police’s “unease with the present state of farm policy,” saying that it is an “anachronistic throwback” that survives on “the political power of the farm lobby” and results in such bizarre policies as paying farmers not to farm and food-assistance programs that drive up the price of food. But he disagrees with the intrusive regulatory solutions proposed by the food police:

Where I part with [food activist Michael] Pollan and his fellow foodies is in their conclusions that “like so many government programs — what subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward.” What makes the food police think the government will get it right this time? They like to talk about market failures but are apparently blind to the abundance of government failures. If the process is so corruptible by corporate interests and mega farms, as they claim it is, then Uncle Sam is incapable of working in our food interests, and all the preaching of hope and change is nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

Lusk also disagrees with the food regulators’ view that the general public are low-information eaters who lack the smarts to differentiate between a slice of greasy pizza and a vitamin- and nutrient-rich leafy green salad. According to Lusk, it is these low expectations that make the regulators so devoted to “nudge theory,” which holds that since fallible human beings are incapable of acting in their own best interests, government must step in to make their lives better. Lusk says that even though nudge theory is “pseudoscientific,” it has “permeated the highest levels of regulatory decision making” at various government agencies and “is the engine behind the new food paternalism.”

Food paternalism dovetails perfectly with the regulators’ view of the free-market system and individual freedom in general: They believe in the need for “Uncle Sam’s helping hand.” Lusk writes that the food police’s “readiness to empower government to control food businesses; to centrally direct agricultural output through heavy taxes, subsidies, and public-agency purchasing requirements; and to override consumers’ free choice with everything from a gentle nudge to outright ingredient bans is slowly leading us down the road to serfdom.”

May 20, 2013    |     Volume LXV, No. 9

  • It’s not what the senator promised, but he’s defending it anyway.
  • Nobody knows how to make a pencil, or a health-care system.
  • And its critics can relax.
  • We should be optimistic about their future.
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