Berkeley Prof: An Unlikely Conservative Hero?

“Can anything good come out of Berkeley?”

Indeed, it can. A Berkeley journalism professor has stumbled upon a real-deal, true-blue, bona fide bi-partisan issue: food. In the course of writing a couple books on food, Michael Pollan has become the leader of a growing movement of people who want a change in American farm policy. Left-wing, right-wing, small-farmers, organic co-op types, foodies, and chefs all read and recommend Michael Pollan to friends.

“Whoa!” you say, “this Left Coast pinko better not mess with my steak, my bacon, or my Velveeta.”

No, Pollan hasn’t lobbied for any bans on any of these foods that make America great. What he has observed is that the “American diet” has in study after study after study after study been found to contribute significantly to heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. And what makes it all so tragic, Pollan notes, is that the Federal Government is subsidizing this poor diet.

It all begins with corn. Sweet corn is a wonderful and healthy plant, and any American that doesn’t eat a dozen ears a week of it when it’s in season should be dragged before the HUAC and interrogated. Sadly, most of the corn grown in this country (say ¾ of it) is NOT sweet corn. This highly stable field corn is grown on more than 80 million acres. A lot of it is used as cheap feed for beef and dairy cattle. Some of it is used to make ethanol. Some of it is used to make high fructose corn syrup–a sugar substitute. Quite a bit of it ends up as maltodextrin, xanthan gum, and other unpronounceable that end up on the labels of processed foods.

The cheap feed for cattle might be the worst use of corn, inasmuch as Americans devour billions of burgers every year. Turns out cows like to eat grass (they are ruminants), not the seeds of grass (which is what corn is). Eating a diet high in corn can have an unsettling effect on a cow’s digestion which requires the cow be given drugs–drugs that end up in our food. Oh, how I love my cow drugs. Cattle that don’t eat their preferred diet tend to produce a less healthy meat, too. If YOU lived on Ho-Ho’s and Cap’n Crunch, you might get bigger, but not have the healthiest muscles and bones either.

So how is this the government’s fault? Well, they subsidize corn production. In a program that only a bureaucrat and his industrial farming cronies could dream up, farmers are paid for each bushel they produce, whether the market demands that bushel or not. As a consequence, the push is to grow, grow, grow. Produce more corn, if the market price is too low, the taxpayer will make up the loss for the farmer. Is this a sensible business model? Da, comrades.

With extra corn, beef and dairy feed is cheap. Cheap feed means that beef and dairy products are cheaper than they otherwise would be. How much cheaper? Well, a local “grass-fed” beef seller charges about double for his beef than the Wal-Mart, the IGA, or the local butcher. Turns out eating grass takes longer to get beef cattle to full-size. Time is money. Michael Pollan cites some research that eating grass-fed beef might be much healthier than corn-fed beef–grass being the natural choice of the beef and its digestive system. So, you don’t have to give up steak or burgers, you just have to pay more for them, but at least they might not cause quite the heart disease they did before. Pay now or pay later.

Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma details this whole foolish game, and Pollan has a growing legion of followers. The government has corrupted the nation’s food system, encouraging over-production of corn and its subsequent overuse in beef and dairy cattle feed, as well as the ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup and corn by-products in processed foods from cereal to salad dressing. Conservatives need to get on board this movement before the radical lefties that also read Michael Pollan start lobbying for the $25 billion in farm subsidies to be spent on “urban gardens”, “micro-farm subsidies”, and other mal-investments.