Food Fundamentalism

One of the most frustrating aspects of Fat Land Living is trying to deal with the pseudoscience and anti-modern tropes of Whole Foods Nation. Their determination to believe in the sanctity of Nature and the irredeemably corrupt world of modern food production is rivaled only by religious fanatics railing on about the literal Truth of their preferred tome. No wonder, of course, since the deep problem with both is a hackneyed fundamentalism that serves to protect the believer from the true complexity of the world by substituting a psychotic fantasy of what the Devil/Monsanto is really up to.

As I set out in The Raw, the Cooked and the Half-Baked, the various tribes of Whole Foods Nation could not give a flying fuck less about actual obesity and us real, living, breathing fat people. We are the occasion for them to open a new front in the war on modernity. Our fatness is marshaled as evidence of the toxicity of the food landscape that they are valiantly trying to hold at bay by taxing the poor, denying categories of food to the poor, banning sugar to the poor, banning processed food to the poor and (the big brass ring on this merry-go-round) banning “GMO” anything to, yup, the poor. And trying to nag the rest of us into submission to their bizarre desire to roll back the parts of the Enlightenment that they really don’t find useful.

Three things came on my radar recently. First, fighting the myth that beverages sweetened with artificial sweeteners are going to make you fat because they are toxic, especially aspartame. Second, a push back from chemists and other scientists against “chemophobia“. Third, a push back from a wide range of scientists on the fear-mongering surrounding “GMO” (I put it in quotes because the term has little substantive meaning among food paranoiacs anymore, it’s just like saying “Satan” among religious types) crops in particular and the Green Revolution in general.

I’m not going to go into myth-debunking. That’s a bottomless pit of the Half-Baked contingent sticking their fingers in their ears going “La-la-la I can’t hear you and any science you show me isn’t true because corporations are evil and I have links to web sites that say you are wrong!” while scientists talk in the usual formal and somewhat stilted language of labs, test cases and peer reviews.  All I will offer on this count is an article (one in a series, actually, all linked at the bottom of the article) from Grist talking about the claims and the reality about FDA review of genetically modified food crops, The GM safety dance: What’s rule and what’s real, by Nathanael Johnson.

What matters to me is the way in which pseudoscience and “feelings” about food, Nature (and nature), and modernity are being used to push political agendas, and how the fat on my ass has been grabbed as a tool by the anti-modernists to justify tone-deaf, irrational, absolutist and punitive actions in the name of “health” and “wellness.”

The food fundamentalists have a vision of how and what “we” (by which they mean “all of you who aren’t eating the way I think you should, you stupid sheeple”) should eat, indeed, should exist. It involves free-range animals, small organic family farms, large entertaining farmers markets, no food processing, no single use-bags or containers, no chemicals, and no social friction. Everything is local, small-scale and slow and people smile and laugh a lot.

Marx once described this as “the idiocy of rural life,” by which he meant the mind-numbing stultification of parochialism, the ancient folkways that stifle innovation and human flourishing, the tyranny of localism that locks social subordinates into lives of ignorance, misery and abuse. The happy Nature of food fundamentalism is straight out of Madison Avenue; the burnished images of sunrise over the barn, the romance of a hay wagon ride, the wholesome farm family (always with a winsome little girl in pigtails) tending the land that they belong to. The farmers in my family are nothing like this. They are business men and women who work in the middle of dirt and stink for long hours using high tech and bioengineering developed at the state farm universities (“cow colleges”) to make the most efficient and profitable use of their lands that they can. It does give me a chuckle that so many who chase the fantasy of an anti-modern life (but with all the good parts of modernity still around, OK?) do so out of a profound misreading of Marx (and other socialist/communitarian thinkers), believing that the Utopia of his writings was rural and non-industrial. Heh.

The deep problem of food fundamentalism, and with all the feel good, keep-it-local, oh I’m being healthy, cook it like Grandma would have variations is that it is a profound flight from the challenges of modernity without any real attempt to take on the sheer size, scale and scope of feeding an interconnected, industrial world of 7+ (and growing) billion people. You can’t feed this world by being a locovore. It is the marker of a wealthy class who can pay to opt out of the regular food world of frozen dinners and food scarcity and live in the picture-perfect dream of advertisers.

Obesity is a fact in wealthy nations, though it may be more prevalent among the lower classes of those societies, and food insecurity is also a fact, in all nations, even the rich ones. Answers to the superfluity of food in one place and the scarcity of it in others will not, cannot be found in a flight into a fantasy of pre-modern food production. Screaming your heads off that you find science icky and scary (as you drive electric cars, swallow supplements, wear synthetic fibers, make use of modern medicine, yack away on cell phones, and post incoherent anti-science rambles to whatever social media site is cool today) and trying to bully the rest of humanity into agreeing to go back in time to idiot rural life while you get to retain your trappings of wealth in Fortress America isn’t going to work, though you are and will continue to make life more difficult for the losers in life’s ovarian lottery.

Modern times call for modern approaches to food production, processing and distribution. These, in turn, call for science, regulation, and oversight to insure that greed and fear do not undermine the goal of food security for all.


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Posted in Culture, Politics

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