The Huffington Post published an interesting article today that noted a growing schism in the ideology of the food activists. The (conservative) author proposed that among liberals and left-of-center people concerned about the issue, more centrist campaigns (like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move) that engage constructively with food companies can help gain anti-obesity results were being opposed by further-left groups (the author name-checked the Naderite Center for Science in the Public Interest as one of these) that want food companies cattle-prodded into line.
But while the cattle-prodders rack up failure after failure — even California failed to pass the soda tax, for this year at least — the constructive engagers are beginning to show results. A coalition of food companies recently announced preliminary findings that they had achieved a goal of supplying 1.5 trillion fewer calories per year two years ahead of schedule. (Broken down on a per-person per-day basis, that reduction beats many rigorous estimates of the calorie reductions from the cattle-prodders’ soda tax.)
Left-leaning policy spheres are clearly starting to have their own debate over the validity of the “war on food” that has been waged over the past decade. Recall a recent article in a progressive policy journal that noted extensively that the science does not support the campaigns of activists against obesity. And two California cities that voted strongly for Democrats also cast ballots overwhelmingly against soda taxes, showing that left-leaning grassroots aren’t on the food police bandwagon either, even if they want to see obesity reduced.
All of these internal liberal debates bear out something that we noted when an Associated Press analysis tried to shoehorn the debate over food policing into simple left-right terms back in January. There isn’t the will among even liberals and Democrats to surrender consumer choice to the food police — the AP’s poll found 74 percent of Americans opposed the soda ban and 59 percent opposed soda taxes.
Those who actually want to improve the nation’s health will do well to partner with companies rather than attack them, and promote personal responsibility rather than diminish it. But the impulse to diminish it isn’t going to go away. The latest fad in food policing, declaring foods that are pleasing to the palate cocaine-like and “addictive” despite scientific evidence that “criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviors,” has only just begun.