Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Food Fights and Class Warfare
There was a time when full tables signified prosperity and thick waistlines were considered attractive. The ability to eat one's fill was what separated the gentry from the peasant making do with a few crusts and salted leftovers. Fat was in because it represented leisure and wealth. Thin meant you were on the road to the poorhouse or to consumption, which meant your body was being consumed, not that you were the one doing the consuming.
Then feudalism went the way of the dodo, agriculture was revolutionized and starvation went extinct in the West. Between the widespread availability of cheap food and social welfare programs covering everything from soup kitchens to food stamps, it became hard to starve. Not only was the availability of food no longer associated with prosperity, but even the poor had begun to eat so well that fat began to carry working class and lower class associations. Fat was no longer wealth, instead conscientious fitness became a mark of prosperity. The laden table made way for micro portions and exotic but barely edible foods. Thin was in on the plate and the waistline.
In Third World countries where feudalism never ended and the agriculture revolution never mattered, the values often never flipped. Instead of anorexia, teenage girls suffer from being force fed to make them more marriageable. The wealthy are fat and the feasts at the top never end.
In the West, weight stands in for class, at a time when explicit classism has become politically incorrect. When Europeans sneer at how fat Americans are, and American coastal elites sneer at the rest of the country for being fat, it's a class putdown that dressed up longstanding contempt in the colors of the welfare state.
Just because the left and its class warfare worldview, which pretends to be concerned about the plight of the underclass, dominates Western societies does not mean that it is not classist. The left is elitist and its underclass protectionism creates a new wave feudalism with a vast government funded upper and middle class dedicated to caring for the underclass, subsidizing it, caring for it and taxing it to pay for all those services.
The obesity concern trolling is a combination of classism and nanny statism that brings to mind the days when their ideological forebears thought that the way to deal with the poor was to sterilize those who seemed less capable than the rest to improve the breed. There is something equally Darwinian in the sneers aimed at Paula Deen. The breed being culled while the elites try to teach their less evolved cousins to survive by eating their arugula.
The nanny state is built on a technocratic confidence in the ability to create one size fits all solutions, overlaying that on a map of the current medical wisdom leads to the creation of single standards, which often have less to do with health than they do with the status symbols of the leisure class. 19th century popularized medicine created so many of these fads that some of them are still around today. The 20th century created even more.
Death though is not only inevitable, but it cannot be dodged with a one size fits all standard. Fitness guru Jim Fixx who helped kickstart the running craze died in his early fifties of a heart attack. Fixx had quit smoking and lost weight, and still died at an early age. Jackie Gleason who spent his life looking like a walking health attack, smoking and drinking, outlived him by nearly twenty years.
Medicine is individual and the collectivization of medicine is a technocratic solution that leads nowhere except to few doctors and ranks of unionized medical personnel nudging patients into following the script handed down to them by professors who have never actually practiced medicine a day in their life. This is the outcome of a nanny state outlook that sees individuals as dispensable, that is concerned only with group outcomes.
This view requires seeing all people as endowed with certain problems that require broad stroke solutions, like adding calories to menus and other rats in a maze tactics designed to modify human behavior on a national level. The targeting of fast food restaurants, public school meals and food stamps reeks of the same elitist arrogance that drives the nanny state.
The politicization of food by the elites of the left always comes down to class, no matter how it may be disguised in liberal colors. From exotic to locally grown, the trajectory of food politics follows the upselling of food prices The only difference is that the dominance of the left has wrapped the added cost with no added value in their own politics. The more affordable food becomes, the more the left finds ways to add cost to food, without adding value.
But the politicization of food goes beyond the fair trade and locally grown fetishes of the politically correct elites, the more politics ends up on your plate, the more the elites are driven to involve everyone else in their food fights. What begins as a way of raising prices while diminishing value to assert wealth and privilege becomes imposed on everyone in the name of their political morality. Once everyone else is paying more and getting less, then the classist left demands new ways to set its superior moral eating habits apart. Instead of everyone ending up with more food, everyone ends up with less.
The cultural ascendance of the left has meant that instead of conspicuous consumption, the consumption has to be disguised with conspicuous political pieties. The food may cost twice as much, but it's locally grown on a farm run by handicapped union workers who visit Cuba to receive free health care or by the indigenous peoples of Tuba-Tuba with the proceeds going to a complete sonic library of their chants and ceremonies. The entire thing is meaningfully meaningless, but it disguises the consumption in a hairshirt, which is the entire point.
Conspicuous consumption is now for the poor while conspicuous conservation is for liberal elites. Al Gore may live in a mansion but he still has the carbon footprint of a mouse. The problem is the truck driver whose vehicle emissions are killing the planet. Whole Foods is just fine, but we need to do something about McDonald's.
Conspicuous conservationism has made America a poorer country, destroyed millions of jobs and outsourced them overseas. Now it's beginning to make America a hungrier country. In a moment of horrifying tone deafness that makes Marie Antoinette seem enlightened, the left is cheering that fewer Americans are eating meat, without seeming to understand that it's because fewer Americans are able to afford it because of their economic policies.
What the left's food police can't accomplish with nudges and shaming, they can finish off with policies and regulations that end up raising the price of food or by making it too difficult to sell. As the left tries and fails to sell the general public on conservation as a status symbol, it moves in the heavy bureaucratic artillery.
It isn't unusual for elites to use the legal system to enforce their own values on the general public, though it was the kind of thing that the universal franchise was supposed to put a leash on, but there is something grim about their growing preoccupation with the habits and mortality of the population. It's the kind of concern that has a habit of ending in eugenics and the more medicine is universalized, the easier it is to start cutting off access to medical treatment for those who haven't been nudged far enough in the right direction.
Social medicine politicizes food consumption and a globalized economy politicizes food production. And the politicized American plate has less on it and at a higher price. While the left obsessively pursues its mission of destroying fast food in the name of lowering social medicine costs and being fairer to farmers, what they are truly accomplishing is to take affordable and filling food off the shelves, as they have done with countless other products that they have targeted.
By the time the left was done with Russia, it had gone from a wheat producer to a wheat importer and many basic food staples were hard to come by even in a country filled with collective farms. Finding modern day examples of that isn't hard. We only have to look as far south as Venezuela to see empty store shelves under the weight of government food policies. But one day that may be the local grocery store if the left gets its way.