Food Politics in the Food Pyramid
Today’s article is a guest post from Dr. Jonny Bowden, also known as The Rogue Nutritionist, a nationally known expert on weight loss and nutrition whose articles have appeared in Forbes, the New York Times, Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal
Have you ever heard of Dairy Management? Sounds made up, I know, but it is very real. In fact, it’s part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most intriguing is its mission: To get people to eat more cheese. According to The New York Times, “…the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.”1
So, on one hand, the government — through a corporation that’s part of its own USDA — is telling us to eat less saturated fat and yet, out of the other side of its collective mouth, is telling us to eat more of it (in the form of cheese).
What is going on?
It All Starts with Pizza…
Several years ago, Domino’s Pizza wasn’t having a good year. Sales were low, profits were down, and, according to The New York Times, Domino’s tied for first in a big national survey of the “Worst Tasting Pizzas In America.”
What to do, what to do?
Well, if you were a big corporation with flagging sales and an unpopular product, what would you do? You’d go the experts.
Which is exactly what Domino’s did.
They went to Dairy Management, Inc., whose experts basically gave them the following advice: Make the pizzas cheesier!
Dairy Management teamed up with Domino’s to create new pizzas with 40 percent more cheese and devised (and paid for) a $12 million marketing campaign for the new creation. People loved the stuff and sales soared “by double digits,” according toThe New York Times.
Of course, people became outraged. How can the government (via Dairy Management) tell us to eat the very thing (saturated fat) that they are also telling us to avoid? Easy.
The advice we get from the government about what food to eat (or not eat) is completely tied to special interests from the industries that produce that food.
Our government heavily subsidizes the farming of sugar, wheat, corn, and soy. Do you really think you’re ever going to see the USDA recommending that we eat less of any of these products?
The Dairy Industry has managed to lobby behind the scenes to practically criminalize the sale of raw milk. Do you think that’s for health reasons? Or for economic ones?
But I digress.
When the World Health Organization (WHO) put out a report in 1990 called “Diet, Nutrition, and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases,” they made a very reasonable and conservative recommendation: keep “added” sugars to 10 percent or less of the diet2.
OK with you? Find anything wrong with that? Actually, who would find anything wrong with that?
I’ll give you three guesses and here’s a hint: The Sugar Association.
The Sugar Industry was completely up in arms about this, wrote to WHO, waving all kinds of data and studies showing that this recommendation was completely unwarranted. (This is just one of the many examples of such their protest letters.) More tellingly, they used their considerable lobbying power to try to get Congress to end all funding for WHO, unless WHO changed its recommendations.
Do you not think this happens every day? Read Food Politics by Marion Nestle.
Buyer beware: You’ll never look at the “food pyramid” in the same way.
Your Food is Big Business…
Even the government is not stupid enough to pay for the growing of food and then turn around and tell you not to buy it or eat it. As long as our antiquated and anti-health farm bill dictates food policy (beneath the radar of most people other than Michael Pollan), you can expect our government “health” agencies like the FDA and USDA to make decisions in keeping with their economic interests.
It’s interesting that with all the shouting these days about “income redistribution” (on both sides of the aisle), the biggest wholesale income redistribution of all is going on right under the radar: it’s the distribution of your tax dollars being paid to agribusiness to produce tons of wheat, soy, corn, and sugar…and to subsidize them so they can be made more cheaply and plentifully. (It’s called “The Farm Bill.”)
Our government — through your tax dollars — literally subsidizes the growing of foods that are making you fat and sick.
And, in a stunning parallel to what goes on in the pharmaceutical industry (and oil industry for that matter), the players move porously and effortlessly from government to academia to industry, a congressman one day, a lobbyist the next, an industry executive one minute, and a member of the group regulating that industry a nanosecond later. This kind of lateral movement from industry to regulator-of-that-industry is legion.
So am I saying that you shouldn’t trust the government about anything? Or that it is all a vast conspiracy?
What I am saying is that there exists a very complex and porous set of relationships between the players in academia, government, industry, and agribusiness. That relationship — sometimes subtly and sometimes bluntly — influences most if not all of the “government approved” health directives like the Food Pyramid.
These relationships color, filter, and shape an enormous amount of information that the public, unwisely and naively, believes to be “scientific and objective.”
“Special Interests” Anyone…
So what do you do? Ignore all government recommendations and throw out anything you hear from mainstream health organizations like the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, or the American Dietetic Association?
No. But you take those recommendations with more than a few grains of salt, and you supplement them by reading, learning, and studying on your own. Read the “gurus” (and their critics). Investigate both sides of every argument (especially when those arguments are compelling and not just some internet B.S.).
Don’t ignore “mainstream” recommendations, but see what other people that you respect think about them. There are a lot of really smart establishment critics out there. I’m glad you’re reading me, but you shouldn’t blindly follow me any more than you should blindly follow government or medical recommendations.
So, do your own homework, check with multiple sources, then make up your own mind.
And, most importantly, be willing to change it.
Remember, if history is any guide — and it usually is — in 50 years we’ll be looking at some of these government approved recommendations for eating, rolling our eyes and saying, “What were they thinking??”
To learn more about the author of this article, Dr. Jonny Bowden, whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC and on Fox News, please visit http://www.jonnybowden.com
1Moss, Michael. While warning about fat, U.S. pushes cheese sales. The New York Times. 2010 Nov 6.
2WHO Study Group. Diet, nutrition, and the prevention of chronic diseases. World Health Organization Technical Report Series. 1990.