I guess it is a fairly reliable axiom that every progressive political desire will eventually come to be expressed in the following way: “I think the government should force people to do this.” There does not really seem to be anything that is not subject to progressivism’s voracious appetite for duress.
The Left’s desire to coerce, force, and mandate is not merely insatiable but seemingly infinite—the end result of progressivism is not simply more government for something but all government for everything. No sooner had legalized gay marriage become a widespread phenomenon, for instance, than the Left went about making it mandatory. So long as something is pleasing to liberal thought, it apparently must be compulsory.
Such is the case with a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post by Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador, and Olivier De Schutter, calling on President Obama to establish a “national food policy.” Noting that the government’s current approach to agricultural regulation has created an “agricultural-industrial complex” that has promoted a grossly unhealthy grain-heavy diet, the four authors call on Obama to establish a new “food policy” by executive order that would “[elevate] food and farming to a matter of public concern rather than a parochial interest:”
The national food policy could be developed and implemented by a new White House council, which would coordinate among, say, the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA to align agricultural policies with public health objectives, and the EPA and the USDA to make sure food production doesn’t undermine environmental goals. A national food policy would lay the foundation for a food system in which healthful choices are accessible to all and in which it becomes possible to nourish ourselves without exploiting other people or nature.
As a practical matter, this plan is utter nonsense and transparently authoritarian. In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.
‘Aligning Food Policies’ Means Pushing People Around
Thus when the authors write about “align[ing] agricultural policies,” they are not speaking in some ill-defined abstract about government policy; they are talking about forcing actual farmers to grow and do things the authors want. When they write of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring “food production,” they are actually advocating that these federal agencies go after and punish people who are not farming in the way the authors want them to farm—and all this without Congress having passed a single law.
The authors are advocating, in other words, for a kind of executive dictatorship over the nation’s farmers, farms, and food supply. While it is unsurprising that they would use this dictatorship to attack the people who grow the food, it is also undeniable that this “national food policy” would target consumers as well. Such a “food system” cannot exist, after all, without people who are willing to purchase and consume its products.
The authors are not merely fed up with their big agribusiness boogeymen; they are also fed up with you for buying agribusiness products, and they want to use the government to make you stop. That you have broken no laws now, and will have broken no laws even after this “policy” goes into effect, is immaterial. They wish for the government to boss you around simply because your shopping purchases displease them. That they are too cowardly to come right out and say so is very telling of who they are—as men, and as advocates of the “public health.” Shame on them for being too spineless to tell the truth of their motives.
I am, after a fashion, sympathetic to the authors’ argument: I think the people of the United States would be much better off if they paid more attention to the food they buy; if they took more care to shop for and prepare food as discerning customers and cooks; and if they recognized the undeniable link between agriculture, food, and health, and took pains to ensure that all three were of the highest quality possible. I am not, however, interested in forcing, at gunpoint, my fellow Americans to live as I live. I am interested in a battle of ideas, not an out-and-out battle. The authors’ vision is, according to them, “the food system the people of the United States deserve.” What we ever did to deserve such a jack-booted travesty is beyond me.