13 March, 2010

Semi-vegetarianism, climate change, and public health

This chart, showing the discrepancy between a recommended diet and what our government subsidizes, has been making the rounds:

And of course, the "recommended" diet is already itself highly influenced by agro-industry lobbyists away from what dieticians actually recommend. I think this is old news to most of us here at debaser, but it is a dramatic reminder of the disastrous incentives embedded in our farm subsidy system, which is itself almost completely a product of (my favorite theme!) the structure of the Senate. Much more than privileging right or left, the Senate's disproportionality privileges the ability of small farm states to skew the entire federal budget to their local agribusinesses.

This also reminded me of Mark Bittman's entertaining TED talk from several years ago, in which he sketched out how the subsidation of grains and the resulting over-consumption of meat and processed foods is intertwined with climate change as well our personal health. He advocates "semi-vegetarianism", which is just another way of saying we should eat less meat. It sounds, and is, simple, but I appreciate the way in which he identifies and dismisses the red herrings of much of the current progressive food fad -- specifically, the "being nice to animals"/PETA style of moralistic vegetarianism, which he sees as counter-productive, and the "locavore"/organic fad, which he points out often is all about branding and not quality.

It all comes down to: halve your meat intake, double your plant intake, and cut junk food and soda. Of course, for people who don't watch TED talks and who don't have access to affordable, fresh foods in their own neighborhoods, there is a crucial element of public policy in making that simple prescription possible.