Farmers to blame for U.S. obesity?


Michael Pollan is a voice for agriculture in the pages of the New York Times.

The journalism professor from UC-Berkeley isn’t always a voice agriculture agrees with, but it’s a compelling voice nonetheless.

I read Pollan to get an alternative viewpoint. I read Pollan to consider differing opinions. I read Pollan because I respect his intelligence. And I read Pollan because he’s a darn good writer.

His most recent essay, however, got me fired up.

In it, Pollan tackles the cause of the growing obesity problem in this country. He boils it down to this: “When food is abundant and cheap, people will eat more of it and get fat.”

This nation’s extra calories, Pollan writes, come from down on the farm.

Too much food. The basic problem, which Pollan makes a credible case for in his essay, is agricultural overproduction. Or, as Pollan puts it, “too much food.” It’s unneeded food, which the government supports through current farm programs.

Those cheap inputs get made into cheap corn sweeteners, meat, chicken and processed foods, which marketers and McDonald’s push into ever-increasing portion sizes and value-added products.

It’s all the over-producing farmer’s fault (and Uncle Sam’s, too).

I thought I had heard it all.

National epidemic. I agree that obesity is a national epidemic. Health-wise, we’re seeing a range of weight-related complications that are shortening our lives.

The two leading causes of death are heart disease and cancer, and both have been linked to nutrition. Type II diabetes, once called “adult onset” diabetes and believed to be age-related, is now being diagnosed in children as young as 9. Obesity increases the risk of it and many preventable diseases.

But to make the connection that agriculture is to blame? I don’t think so.

Plain and simple, we’re eating bigger portions and we’re too lazy.

Seventy percent of adults and 50 percent of children are considered “sedentary” because they get less than 30 minutes of physical activity a day.

The blame game. Consumer groups blame fast-food restaurants where biggie sizes are making us biggie people.

We blame hectic schedules. We blame employers. We blame the boob tube or computers.

Some blame school lunches; others blame food companies and, of course, we all blame the government for something.

Doesn’t anyone – including the farmer – accept responsibility for his actions?

Farmers have done little to prevent their destinies from being determined by farm subsidies. Pollan is on track in suggesting a major overhaul in U.S. farm programs.

Here’s the real question that precludes changing the system: Does society really have the will if there is a cost for individual people?

I have yet to find a consumer or a politician who didn’t advocate keeping food as cheap as possible.


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