Why we can’t trust the US government about food.

Michael Pollan, in his 2007 article in the NY Times, “Unhappy Meals” http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/28/magazine/28nutritionism.t.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1, explains how and when the US government was subverted into giving us bad advice about food: …”a little-noticed political dust-up in Washington in 1977 seems to have helped propel American food culture down this dimly lighted path. Responding to an alarming increase in chronic diseases linked to diet — including heart disease, cancer and diabetes — a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition, headed by George McGovern, held hearings on the problem and prepared what by all rights should have been an uncontroversial document called “Dietary Goals for the United States.” The committee learned that while rates of coronary heart disease had soared in America since World War II, other cultures that consumed traditional diets based largely on plants had strikingly low rates of chronic disease. Epidemiologists also had observed that in America during the war years, when meat and dairy products were strictly rationed, the rate of heart disease temporarily plummeted.

Naïvely putting two and two together, the committee drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products. Within weeks a firestorm, emanating from the red-meat and dairy industries, engulfed the committee, and Senator McGovern (who had a great many cattle ranchers among his South Dakota constituents) was forced to beat a retreat. The committee’s recommendations were hastily rewritten. Plain talk about food — the committee had advised Americans to actually “reduce consumption of meat” — was replaced by artful compromise: “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.”
A subtle change in emphasis, you might say, but a world of difference just the same. First, the stark message to “eat less” of a particular food has been deep-sixed; don’t look for it ever again in any official U.S. dietary pronouncement. Second, notice how distinctions between entities as different as fish and beef and chicken have collapsed; those three venerable foods, each representing an entirely different taxonomic class, are now lumped together as delivery systems for a single nutrient. Notice too how the new language exonerates the foods themselves; now the culprit is an obscure, invisible, tasteless — and politically unconnected — substance that may or may not lurk in them called “saturated fat.”

The entire article is well worth reading – as also the rest of Michael Pollan’s books and articles.
When politicians wonder about why the US citizens no longer trust the government, and why so many people are obese, they should realize it is because the government doesn’t tell us the truth.

1 comment to Why we can’t trust the US government about food.

  • Ana

    “How did they do?”Well, I’m already winllig to replace the IPCC with any one of the 3 expert panels. :-)”Is one group’s panel better than another? If so, why?”Like others, I prefer Group 3’s panel, because Group 3 seems to have more clearly attempted to get diverse views (e.g. Hansen, Lindzen, “Could you have done better? If so, please explain.”Here were 11 of my 12 (not in order of anything):1) James Hansen 2) Patrick Michaels 3) Jesse Ausubel 4) Vaclav Smil 6) Arnold Kling 7) Richard Tol 8) Veerabhadran Ramanathan 9) James Hurrell 10) JFB Mitchell 11) Benjamin HortonNone of your three class groups has an expert on emissions. That’s a huge component of any analysis of future climate change. In contrast, my group has 2 experts on emissions: Jesse Ausubel and Vaclav Smil. My list also has two economists: Richard Tol and Arnold Kling. Maybe two economists is overkill, but there ought to be someone who has expertise in evaluating the economic effects of climate change.”The class awaits your feedback.”Overall, very well done, and very interesting.

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