Thursday, March 17, 2011



Great news in the war on obesity! "The 3.9 percent increase in food prices last month is the largest monthly jump since 1974," reports Washington's WUSA-TV:

9NEWS NOW bought eggs, milk, and bread at a Giant supermarket in Washington, DC, on October 1st. The same items at a Wisconsin Avenue Giant in the city on Wednesday night showed the increases.
Milk had increased 15 percent. Bread was up 19 percent. Eggs remained at the same price.
Economists were predicting Wednesday that American consumers will be paying about five percent more for food next fall than they did last fall.

If the trend continues, eventually food will get so expensive that you'll no longer be able to afford to shop at Giant supermarkets. Instead you'll go to itty-bitty ones, where you'll pick up a half-ounce of milk, a pair of eggs and a slice of bread, which you'll have to stretch to feel your whole family for a week. You'll never again have to worry about your kids getting fat.


If you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Last week William Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, spoke at a town-hall meeting in Queens, an area east of Manhattan. Reuters reports Dudley "was bombarded with questions about food inflation," which he patiently tried to put into context, explaining, in the reporter's paraphrase, that "the Fed looks at core inflation, which strips out volatile food and energy costs, to get a better sense of where inflation may actually be heading."

He gave an example: "Today you can buy an iPad 2 that costs the same as an iPad 1 that is twice as powerful," he said. To which someone in the audience replied: "I can't eat an iPad."

Damn right you can't! And you know what else is great about an iPad? It's thin!

By now you have begun to suspect that we are being facetious. To an extent, we are. It is true that Michelle Obama has been waging war on obesity, and it is true that the Fed has been feeding inflation, making it harder for Americans to feed themselves and their families. But so far as we are aware, these two efforts are not part of a single coordinated policy.

Which is not to say that no one has ever suggested such a policy. In a widely discussed 2003 article in the New York Times magazine, Michael Pollan blamed a Nixon-era change in farm policy, a "shift from an agricultural-support system designed to discourage overproduction to one that encourages it" for the "obesity epidemic." He urged a shift back to Depression-era farm-subsidy policies:

As public concern over obesity mounts, the focus of political pressure has settled on the food industry and its marketing strategies--supersizing portions, selling junk food to children, lacing products with transfats and sugars. Certainly Big Food bears some measure of responsibility for our national eating disorder. . . .
There is an understandable reluctance to let Big Food off the hook. Yet by devising ever more ingenious ways to induce us to consume the surplus calories our farmers are producing, the food industry is only playing by a set of rules written by our government. (And maintained, it is true, with the industry's political muscle.) The political challenge now is to rewrite those rules, to develop a new set of agricultural policies that don't subsidize overproduction--and overeating. For unless we somehow deal with the mountain of cheap grain that makes the Happy Meal and the Double Stuf Oreo such "bargains," the calories are guaranteed to keep coming.

Now, we are more worried about bloated government than bloated citizens, so our inclination would be to address this dilemma by simply getting Washington out of the business of directing agricultural production rates altogether.

But it seems like a real dilemma for a modern-day liberal--for someone who believes that Big Government should help the little guy. Do you try to keep food prices from rising and consuming a greater share of the little guy's meager pay or benefit check? Or do you encourage price inflation so as to discourage corporeal inflation?

To put it in political terms: Is the way to win the little guy's vote to protect him from getting too big for his own good?

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