Is What We Eat a Personal Decision?

Last night I wrote a blog piece titled Terrorism vs. Disease in which I asked where were all the politicians who are talking tough about terrorism? Why aren't they also talking tough about food, since the current standard American diet is a much bigger threat to our country. While terrorism is a more immediate threat, the way we eat is more insidiously and effectively destroying our way of life.

In response to my posting, a Facebook friend commented that she did not want the government involved in what she eats. That prompted a long response from me that I've decided to share here because I think it's an important question. Is what we eat a personal decision? We like to believe it is, but in reality, I think it's far from a personal question. And in my response, I explain why.

I'm going to reprint my response below. And at the end, I'm going to recommend three documentaries that provide more information for those who doubt what I say to be true. Unfortunately, I can't cover everything in this one small space. But watching these documentaries that I recommend is important, I think, to understanding why food is the big issue that it is.

Hi V------,

You say you don't want the government involved in what you eat or don't eat. But the fact is, the government is already heavily involved In what you eat and don't eat. 

A primary way it is involved is through providing huge subsidies to the meat and dairy industries and to farmers who grow the crops that agricultural animals eat. My posting advocates getting rid of those subsidies. Where are the politicians who are willing to stand up and take a stand to stop that? 

Secondly, the government issues dietary guidelines that result in food pyramids, My Plate diagrams and guidance on food that results in junk food being provided in school cafeterias, prisons, nursing homes, military bases, government facilities and lots and lots of civilian organizations as well as registered dietiticians who take their guidance from the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. 

We would like to think that what we eat is a personal decision, but it's really not. I pay for others to eat the standard American diet through higher health care premiums and through higher taxes that pay for the government's role in subsidizing animal agricultural industries as well as higher costs to the government for sick Medicare and Medicaid patients. 

But beyond all that, what Americans eat is also causing global warming. And that threat to our planet is bigger than the threats coming from the oil and coal industries -- something most people don't realize. Eating the heavily subsidized, government-supported standard American diet is also a huge threat to our water supply as industries involved in that drink copious amounts of water. You wouldn't believe the thousands of pounds of water needed to produce just one hamburger patty. 

And finally what you eat affects the lives of billions of animals around the planet and it destroys the more natural ecosystem that we all like to enjoy. 

So, while it's comforting to think that what we eat is a personal decision and doesn't affect anybody else, the fact of the matter is, it has huge and terrible consequences for everybody and in my opinion is a much bigger threat to us and our way of life than terrorism is. But because it's more like heating a frog in boiling water as opposed to a more direct possibility (not probability), we ignore it (at our peril). And getting back to the government -- a primary role of government is to protect its citizens from threats both internal and external. That's why we have a military and it's why we have police forces. Well, how we eat has become a huge threat to our nation. We need to get collectively smarter about it. It really is no longer a personal decision like it once was.


Documentaries to watch for more information:

  • Forks Over Knives to understand the health implications of how we eat
  • Cowspiracy to understand the environmental and global warming effects of how we eat
  • Earthlings to understand the ethical effects of how we eat