The Capitol uses food as a weapon. The United States isn’t at that point. But our government has had a hand in our obesity epidemic. For years, the USDA’s food pyramid encouraged people to load up on grains.
Starting in 1992, the federal government “recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables. But these were secondary to the recommendation of six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. It didn’t differentiate between refined and whole grains,” CNN reported last year.
That was poor advice. “It promoted eating so many grain servings, it was promoting obesity,” Prof. Marion Nestle of New York University said. A new government “plate icon” now encourages Americans to get half their calories from fruits and veggies, but in today’s society that will be easier said than done.
Washington still provides generous subsidies to encourage farmers to grow grains. For example, the liberal Environmental Working Group says the federal government provided some $3.5 billion to corn growers in 2010, the most recent year for which information is available.
That tends to make corn cheap, so it ends up in everything from soda (as high fructose corn syrup) to cattle (as feed). As a consequence, it’s less expensive to grab a half pound bag of chips and a two litre bottle of soda or a fast food value meal than it is to snack on fresh fruits and vegetables (which usually aren’t federally subsidized).
In the book, Katniss has a final warning for Americans. “Destroying things is much easier than making them,” she observes while preparing to get rid of her opponents’ stored food and weapons.
Doing so gave her a leg up in the Hunger Games, since she knew how to get her own food. Most of us don’t, just as most of us don’t know how to manufacture the computers, cars and appliances that make modern life so comfortable.
There’s no reason to expect our future to look like The Hunger Games. The story of human development is a story of remarkable improvements, with life getting steadily longer, safer and happier. If the U.S. renews its traditional commitment to first principles, especially free market economics to encourage innovation and risk-taking, our future should be even brighter than our present.