What the government tells us we should eat

My topic today is the USDA’s highly suspect 2015-2020 “Dietary Guidelines for Americans”, which is clearly far more influenced by politics and economics than it is by science or a genuine concern for public health.  I admit that public health policy occasionally elicits positive real-world change, such as the Hunger-Free Act, but I believe that people in general will only eat healthy when it is forced upon them by dire personal circumstance, not when it is suggested to them, especially by the government.  If the recent election cycle has highlighted anything fairly incontestable, it is that folks on both the Left and the Right are pretty distrustful of the government’s true motivations when it comes to most every issue, so I seriously doubt that this wariness does not extend to dietary recommendations.

First of all, the government is heavily invested in agricultural and livestock production via a complex web of price guarantees, subsidies and tariffs aimed at increasing production and decreasing competition.  Next, the federally-funded USDA runs a series of “check-off” programs that collect funds from the concerned parties in order to manage industry-wide marketing campaigns.  In addition to this, the dietary recommendations proffered by the FDA and USDA place the financial interest of partner industries above public health.  Also, the claims advertised on the front of product packaging falls under the jurisdiction of these same federal entities and they are notorious for favoring measures that benefit partner industries while discouraging measures that may indirectly affect their bottom line.  Finally, the government agencies responsible for mandating health and safety measures to ensure product quality are hesitant to adopt production and packaging standards that may interfere with a concerned company’s ability to generate the desired yield output and, therefore, profits.  It is evident when scrutinizing any independently funded study pertaining to the modus operandi of the USDA and FDA that the government is only concerned with creating and maintaining a food system that best serves their individual agenda, rather than that of consumer health and resource welfare.  Marion Nestle did a wonderful job of delineating this point in her groundbreaking book, “Food Politics”.

Processed food companies and fast food chains are well aware of the economic implications of reversing the obesity epidemic and the comorbidities associated with it, as are the FDA and USDA.  Economists at the USDA have calculated that “costly adjustments” would occur in the large-scale agriculture and processed food industries if people ate more healthfully.  That threat is just one reason why Big Food contributes generously to congressional campaigns, and why federal agencies have failed to take the obvious first step, i.e. a fully-committed national obesity-prevention campaign in response to the Surgeon General’s 2001 “Call to Action”.  Such a campaign would have to address economically-impactful dietary considerations and include emphatic messages to eat less, as well as the far less controversial “be more active” campaign, although it has been well-researched that nobody can exercise their way out of a bad diet, no matter how hard they try.  Weight loss and health start in the kitchen, not in the gym!

Oddly enough, no other federal health agency has stepped in to lead the nation on dietary issues, including individual states’ Department of Public Health, which explains why the USDA is left in charge of national nutrition policy, while at the same time protecting the business interests of Big Food.  There is a famous adage from outside the secular sphere: “One cannot serve two masters”.  The USDA’s primary mission is to promote U.S. agricultural products (“eat more”), whilst also dispensing contradictory advice on diet and health (“eat less”).  This notorious ongoing conflict accounts for the ambiguity of federal dietary guidelines, e.g. “aim for a healthy weight”, “choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars”, etc.) and the confusing nature of the USDA’s “Food Pyramid” and “MyPlate”, both of which are antithetical to human evolutionary biology.  To read more on this subject, I highly recommend Denise Minger’s bold treatise on this topic, “Death by Food Pyramid”, for an in-depth look at why and how the US government is duplicitously killing off its own citizens for the sake of economic prosperity.  Do the means justify the end?  Certainly true in an amoral society that worships money!


Government dietary guidelines


A national survey commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has found that nearly three-quarters of adults believe U.S dietary guidelines should include environmental provisions and support sustainable agriculture practices, but despite clear recommendations by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to include sustainability language and recommend sustainable diets, based on the well-established link to health, the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opted not to include them in the final 2015-2020 guidelines, once again highlighting the point that I the USDA is the United States Department of Agriculture, not the United States Department ofPublic Health, thus they are beholden to the financial interests of Big Agra, not individual citizens of this country.  They are concerned with the health of the economy, not the health of the individual.

Had the DGA included sustainability guidelines, this would have represented vision, foresight and concern for not only the health and welfare of the current generation of Americans but for generations to come.  Sadly, this is not the modus operandi of the government.  Guidelines and recommendations on diet proffered by the USDA are focused only on short-sighted economic benefits disguised as concern for public health, which in fact is farthest from their minds, as clearly illustrated when the DGA is carefully dissected one nutritional component at a time.  Guidelines are also influenced by which political party is in power every 4 years.  Human biochemistry however does not change every 4 years, not even every 4000 years!

It is quite easy for Nutritionists, especially Registered Dietitians, to get caught up in the quagmire of bureaucracy that obscures the basic biochemistry of nutrition science under the blanket of governmental policies dictated by economics.  I do not wish to wax cynical or misrepresent myself as the “Oliver Stone of Nutrition Science”, I am merely making the point that the public consists of individual citizens making individual choices about their food purchases and diet.  All that we Nutritionists can do, with diligence and foresight, is to at least disseminate science, not politically dogma, when we offer our advice on what folks should be eating.

As additional “food for thought”, I would also like to add one more consideration to the topic of sustainability.  Which is that sustainability is a luxury that we have the privilege of debating here in our prosperous nation, where we can afford to argue issues such as sustainable versus non-sustainableorganic versus non-organiclocally grown versus not locally grownvegan versus vegetarian, etc.  Meanwhile, 900 million people around the world have no idea where their next meal will come from and worry that their children may starve to death.  It is very important for us to count our blessings and take pause now and then to appreciate that we are privileged enough to be able to worry about the sustainability of our food supply, instead of the sustainability of our individual lives!