Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Why is a Big Mac cheaper than a salad?

posted by Rod Dreher

It has a lot to do with the federal government badly skewing the market with subsidies. Look:
pyramid.jpg
If the government is going to game the system via subsidies, why not subsidize the production of fresh fruits and vegetables, to make healthy food more accessible to poorer families? Government also supports the market by buying up surplus meat and dairy products, and distributing them to public schoolkids in their lunches. As the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (whence the chart above) points out, the government is not required to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. As a commentator cited by Andrew Sullivan observes, people who object to the government using tax policy to encourage people in our obese nation to eat healthier diets ought to realize Washington already manipulates the price of food — but in a way that encourages us to eat things that are making us fatter.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(26)
post a comment
AnotherBeliever

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm


Been saying that for a while. Lots of good books on the topic, Fat Nation, The Omnivore’s Dilemna, etc.
If we paid closer to market value, we’d eat more like our great grandparents did. Lots more rice, cornbread, vegetables, and beans. Somewhat less pre-packaged snack foods. Less meat and dairy.
Our household’s gone semi-Nepali. Dinner most nights is lentil or bean curry, one or two types of vegetables, and rice. And beer, of course. It’s actually plenty filling. There’s cooking oil and garlic and loads of spices in the curry and vegetables, less you think the stuff is flavorless. You get meat at dinner once a week. Maybe twice. (Though of course lunch time we are often out in town and eating American foods.)
This is how most of the planet eats. But they are starting to pick up on our habits.



report abuse
 

GregK

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm


The solution, of course, is not for the government to subsidize different things, but for the government to get out of the business of messing with markets so businesses and consumers can make rational choices based on real costs.



report abuse
 

Karl G

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm


In no small part because meat and dairy are high revenue businesses, and so have a lot more to pump into lobbying.
I’m going to spit these apart to avoid rumored ways of invoking the spam filter. This is a good discussion of how we’re hurt by the corporate nature of our food supply:
http://www.openleft.com/diary/17379/soda-mapped-vs-diabetesmichael-polin-on-the-deeper-story-a-proposal-for-taming-corporate-power



report abuse
 

Karl G

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm


http://www.openleft.com/diary/17701/the-real-threats-to-our-precious-bodily-fluids
Talks about how the factory production methods that such subsidies tend to promote huts us as well.



report abuse
 

trotsky

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm


For all the focus on the evils of corn syrup, it’s interesting to me that so much of the federal cash has gone to meat and dairy. Does that include the grain subsidies that ultimately end up in the stomachs of cattle?



report abuse
 

Karl G

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm


And:
http://www.urbanfarmhub.org/2010/02/holt-farm-to-school-improvement-act/
The Farm to School act looks like a promising push toward but supporting local agriculture and encouraging healthier foods in schools.
I’d love to see CSAs and the like harnessed as a partial alternative to food stamp programs and the like as well, but I’m not going to hold my breath there.



report abuse
 

Richard

posted March 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm


GregK has it right. One of the things so frustrating when we talk about ‘free markets’ is that we don’t have such things. Too may lobbyists, too much big business – especially agri-business – begging for subsidies.
When Barney Frank can make Republicans look like dinks in this arena, you know it’s a bad policy. Here he is as quoted by the Club for Growth of all people!
“Mr. Chairman, I am here to confess my reading incomprehension. I have listened to many of my conservative friends talk about the wonders of the free market, of the importance of letting the consumers make their best choices, of keeping government out of economic activity, of the virtues of free trade, but then I look at various agricultural programs like this one. Now, it violates every principle of free market economics known to man and two or three not yet discovered.
So I have been forced to conclude that in all of those great free market texts by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and all the others that there is a footnote that says, by the way, none of this applies to agriculture. Now, it may be written in high German, and that may be why I have not been able to discern it, but there is no greater contrast in America today than between the free enterprise rhetoric of so many conservatives and the statist, subsidized, inflationary, protectionist, anti-consumer agricultural policies, and this is one of them.”
Ouch.



report abuse
 

Richao

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:29 pm


Others have touched on this, but Sullivan’s commenter is asking the wrong question: I, an opponent of government subsidizing foods currently considered healthy (not because I dislike healthy food, mind you), am fully aware that the government subsidizes a lot of unhealthy food. However, I’m not naive enough to believe that a government both large enough and generous enough to subsidize any category food is capable of doing so in a rational manner. Any subsidy will eventually be captured by the most powerful interests and will not be adjusted to follow the latest in nutritional science as we learn more about the complex interactions between diet, lifestyle, environment, and health. Pray tell, how does the argument that the government already doles out billions of dollars in ridiculous and actively harmful subsidies help make the case that I should be in favor of allowing it to dole out even more money?
(The issue is not identical, but I’m willing to wager good money that companies are already gearing up to redefine vast swaths of their positions as “green jobs” in the expectation that the government is going to start subsidizing employees in positions that can be described as such. But, under the logic above, I guess since the government already subsidizes oil, gas, and coal production, I’m obligated to put my full support behind the subsidization of green jobs? Give me a break.)



report abuse
 

Liam

posted March 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm


Well, folks, here is where the structure of the US Senate comes yet again into play. Farm subsidies benefit farm states. While there are farm states with large populations (CA, TX, FL, IL, et cet.), they get ballast from the Senatorial weighting of large-area low-population states that are also agricultural states. Which means that the equal representation guaranteed to them under the Constitution guarantees that their Senators (regardless of party) will be sure not to cut the pork off.
You can lay part of this at the feet of the Framers, but also on those who created the current Senate rules.



report abuse
 

thehova

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm


There’s a lot of reasons a Big Mac is cheaper than a salad. Government subsidies plays a very small role.



report abuse
 

Quiddity

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm


Grains, meat, and dairy generally store well. That’s not the case with fruits and vegetables. So there may be a practical, logistical-related reason why the former group end up in people’s diet.



report abuse
 

Mike

posted March 10, 2010 at 2:38 pm


The article does not make clear whether the Federal grants lower the price or support the price. The article stated forced Federal buying inflated the demand and price. Consequently, without Federal subsidies, the Big Mac should have a lower price than it now has. While I disagree with the agri subsidies, I don’t think they keep prices down.



report abuse
 

Dan Berger

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:19 pm


Actually, Quiddity, fruits and vegetables store perfectly fine. It’s called “canning” and grocery stores have entire aisles dedicated to fruits and veggies in cans. And probably another aisle dedicated to frozen fruits and veggies.
“Fresh” fruits and veggies don’t store well, but that’s by definition. If you store ‘em a while, they aren’t very fresh, are they?
“Fresh” meat on the grocery shelf tends to have been frozen for shipping, then thawed in the store for sale.



report abuse
 

Connie Connie in Wisconsin

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:35 pm


we’d eat more like our great grandparents did. Lots more rice, cornbread, vegetables, and beans. . . . Less meat and dairy.
I dunno, AB, my g-g-parents, farmers in Germany then Iowa, ate a LOT of meat and dairy, and not much veggies beyond sauerkraut. And potatoes in place of rice, of course. If we are going to eat seasonally and locally, large parts of America are not going to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables for more than half the year.
I agree with quiddity; the storage (and shipping) problem has a lot to do with the expense of one category over the other.
Also, beyond maybe the California Raisin Board, there’s not a lot of advertising to support eating unprocessed foods. Food is cheap; processing aka “added value” is where the profit is to be made.
[On a semi-related note, there's a huge hearing in Wisconsin today to discuss if the sale of raw milk should be allowed.]



report abuse
 

Dan Berger

posted March 10, 2010 at 3:50 pm


@ Connie Connie: If we are going to eat seasonally and locally, large parts of America are not going to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables for more than half the year.
According to Reay Tannahill’s Food in History, the Chinese traditionally kept fresh veggies year round by covering the beds with manure. The decomposition kept the plants warm.
YMMV.



report abuse
 

Rich

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:08 pm


If the Feds replaced corn/wheat/cotton subsidies with subsidies for orchard crops, it’d drop our CO2 output in no time. There’d be a few million acres of fruit and nut trees in not time.



report abuse
 

David J. White

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:25 pm


Also, beyond maybe the California Raisin Board, there’s not a lot of advertising to support eating unprocessed foods.
Since when are raisins not processed? Granted, in the case of raisins the processing might be minimal, but I don’t think they fell off the vine looking like that.



report abuse
 

Funny McHaha

posted March 10, 2010 at 4:38 pm


I blame the neocorns.



report abuse
 

T

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm


The government already interferes with the market, to rather bad results (the subject of your article is how govt. subsidies are messing things up). The solution you propose is MORE government subsidies?
You can be confident the purpose of those meat & dairy subsidies was supposed to “fix” some other problem, or bribe some senator from Wisconsin or California.
Unintended (i.e. lazily unconsidered) consequence: unhealthy food is cheaper because, via subsidies, we already indirectly pay for much of it anyway.



report abuse
 

thehova

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:26 pm


“The solution, of course, is not for the government to subsidize different things, but for the government to get out of the business of messing with markets so businesses and consumers can make rational choices based on real costs.”
Even if this happened (which would be good thing), Big Mac’s would generally be cheaper than salads due to a combination of reasons.



report abuse
 

T

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm


To clarify my earlier comment, the author does NOT EXPLICITLY SAY that he supports government intervention, but he implies support for health-based tax policy by criticizing objectors. If he didn’t mean to imply this, he could clarify, but he hasn’t.



report abuse
 

MikeW

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm


“Washington already manipulates the price of food — but in a way that encourages us to eat things that are making us fatter.”
But Rod, being fat is good for the economy. The weight-loss industry is big business. And think about the contribution obesity is making to the health-care industry. And let’s not forget big pharma, who is making money coming and going. In other words, the majority of antibiotic production goes into animal feed, and then they’re making big bucks on drugs that purport to fight heart disease and high cholesterol, not to mention the anti-fat pills that are in the works. The Matrix has it right, but instead of producing energy for some vast god-like computer, we humans, at least in the first world, are just calorie consumption units. We have value because we consume…



report abuse
 

Jon

posted March 10, 2010 at 6:58 pm


Re: While there are farm states with large populations (CA, TX, FL, IL, et cet.), they get ballast from the Senatorial weighting of large-area low-population states that are also agricultural states
But in how many states is agriculture not a significant (even if not the largest) industry? Excluding fishing and forestry, but including dairy and other animal husbandry, I think that list would be the New England states, New Jeresy, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico and (maybe) Colorado. That’s off the top of my head, so others are welcome to correct me if I am wrong. But the poiint is that some sort of farming or herding is important to most of the country.



report abuse
 

Connie Connie in Wisconsin

posted March 10, 2010 at 9:10 pm


Jon–ESPECIALLY if you count growing pot.



report abuse
 

Margie

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm


David – raisins are harvested off the vine and laid on sheets in the rows of the vineyard until they have dried correctly. If there is an unexpected rain, it can ruin the crop while it is drying. So…raisins are not processed.



report abuse
 

DC

posted March 16, 2010 at 11:01 am


There is more than one way to subsidize. The oranges industry and others benefit from cartel-like “marketing orders.” The Reagan administration tried to get rid of them but they were instantly re-imposed by Congress because the industry has very effective lobbyists.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another blog to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Rod Dreher. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here is another blog you may also enjoy: Most Recent Scientology Story on Beliefnet! Happy Reading!!!

posted 3:25:02pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Mommy explains her plastic surgery
In Dallas (naturally), a parenting magazine discusses how easy it is for mommies who don't like their post-child bodies to get surgery -- and to have it financed! -- to reverse the effects of time and childbirth. Don't like what nursing has done to your na-nas? Doc has just the solution: Doctors say

posted 10:00:56pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Why I became Orthodox
Wrapping up my four Beliefnet years, I was thinking about the posts that attracted the most attention and comment in that time. Without a doubt the most popular (in terms of attracting attention, not all of it admiring, to be sure) was the October 12, 2006, entry in which I revealed and explained wh

posted 9:46:58pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

Modern Calvinists
Wow, they don't make Presbyterians like they used to!

posted 8:47:01pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »

'Rape by deception'? Huh?
The BBC this morning reported on a bizarre case in Israel of an Arab man convicted of "rape by deception," because he'd led the Jewish woman with whom he'd had consensual sex to believe he was Jewish. Ha'aretz has the story here. Plainly it's a racist verdict, and a bizarre one -- but there's more t

posted 7:51:28pm Jul. 21, 2010 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.