Charles Krauthammer has noted, more than once, and I have quoted him, I also think more than once, that liberals don’t care what you do, so long as it is mandatory. This coercive spirit driving them applies to everything, and what once used to be used as a reductio ad absurdum in our debates with them (about tobacco or health care, say) are now embraced by progressives as a serious part of their agenda. Anything to grow the girth of the state. They want control of the food supply, and they want it to further their statist ends.
Like it or not, food is now a serious political issue. The Food Police by Jayson Lusk is a very fine book about the politics of food, and the politics of food — as it turns out — is quite an extensive subject. We’ll get to some of the details of that in a moment.
First, there are a number of distinctions we need to make before moving on to a closer interaction with the book. As those who have been following my posts on food should know, the need of the hour is for us to leave one another alone. What someone else has for lunch ought to make me purse my lips not at all, and a censorious gaze should be the last thing on my mind. We should all be allowed our laissez faire lunchtimes.
But this is precisely why we need to make a distinction between lunch and the politics of lunch. Lunch is what we order off the menu. Politics is what we order off the stage. Politics is about what we are willing, corporately, to require of one another. Politics has an element of coercion, always, and because of my adherence to the golden rule, I want to keep that coercion to a minimum. Coercion is always a big deal, and so I don’t want to make anybody do anything unless I have sound biblical warrant for it. This is why I am willing for the coercive power of the state to be applied to rapists and murderers, and not to the purveyors of raw milk, unregulated cheeses, and/or Big Gulp sodas. On the matter of foodstuffs I am a libertarian. Let the people buy, if they so desire, junk science or junk food.
To run ahead to the moment when the entree called the point of this blog post arrives at this table of ours, piping hot, I don’t have biblical warrant for making people eat what a bunch of other officious people might think might be healthy.
One other distinction needs to be made. The modern foodie movement is native to the Left, and is therefore just two steps away from making whatever it is compulsory. This is an important point to make, but it has to be made without falling into the genetic fallacy. The Kellogg brothers were wingnuts back in their day, but many a normal American kid has had his corn flakes without partaking of the wingnuttery. The same thing applies in the consumption of Graham crackers, the flour of which was originally thought to help us deal with original sin. More than that is involved, apparently.
So I am not talking about the suspect origins of something, long ago and far away. And neither am I talking about the libertarians and crunchy cons who eat alternative foods just because they like it. I know that many such exist, and may God bless every crunchy mouthful for them. You can buy Shaker furniture without swearing off sex. But it needs to be acknowledged that the overwhelming ethos of the contemporary foodie movement is statist in its assumptions. Orwell’s vision of the totalitarian future was a boot stepping on a human face forever. These soft despots want to do it with pillows, but they still want to do it.
Turning to Lusk’s book, he notes this important aspect of Michael Pollan’s entire project.
“Reading Pollan’s farm policy proposal, one is struck by the vision of an all-encompassing government that knows no bounds so long as its purpose is to provide us fashionable food. Lurking behind the compassion and glowing rhetoric is a deeper reality of food totalitarianism” (pp. 115-116).
Just one example of this — Pollan wants the government to “establish a strategic grain reserve” (p. 129), in order to control and moderate the price of grain.
“In his book The World is Fat, Barry Popkin says he wants to ‘change our eating pattern . . . through taxation'” (p. 146).
So before debating (or, rather, discussing) what foods are best for you, or which taste better, or which are less filling, what I would like to do is insist that all parties agree beforehand to keep coercion to a minimum. Just let people buy what they buy, and eat what they eat. No subsidies, no price supports, no restrictions, and no federal departments printing brochures about it. Let’s make a deal — no stupid laws. Let us have our discussion in the context of liberty. If you believe in free markets, as I do, this needs to include farmers’ markets.
This is keeping coercion to a minimum, which is not the same thing as anarchy. The state should legitimately hear civil suits brought in cases of salmonella and E. Coli. If the patron of a restaurant left this valley of tears while on the restaurant floor after drumming his heels on the floor for five minutes, clutching at his throat, making quite a scene, and scaring the couple in the booth next to the window, then a legal action should be able to be brought. But if we are debating whether an excess of moon pies shaved three and a half years off some guy’s life expectancy, I would urge us all to let his wife make the necessary and prudent moon pie calculations. Let’s not do that through the nearest circuit court, or make it the remotest concern of any cabinet level departments.
This is because we live in a time when food opinions are not just food opinions. They are being expressed against a backdrop of thinly veiled legal threats. As soon as a certain kind of mind decides that something is disreputable, then the next step is to say “there ought to be a law.”
“I write about the food police because they have been spectacularly effective in influencing how our culture thinks about food” (p. 181).
And moving from how we have come to think about food, to the next step, which is how we already unfortunately think about the law, we need to be really careful. But the leaders in the foodie movement are not shy about helping us not to be careful in this regard.
This is an important commitment for us to make because there are many issues where the fears seem — at least initially — far more reasonable. I used the example of the gent who had too many moon pies, but what about genetically modified foods, as in, the so-called “franken foods?” How many hundreds of thousands of acres should be under the control of “corporate farming”? Let’s consider these questions in turn:
My operating assumption is that we ought not to be banning anything without clear moral warrant, and fears about insect-resistant crops shouldn’t be in that category.
“The food police have fought tooth and nail to keep the current technologies out of [Africans’] hands . . . While rich farmers and consumers in the United States are enjoying the benefits of insect-resistant corn, these groups [Greenpeace, Food First, etc.] somehow find it morally justifiable to hinder Africans from developing and using drought-tolerant maize” (p. 111).
Not only can a plain moral case not be made against such crops, a quite compelling moral case can be made against those who would interfere with a serious attempt to feed a continent where starvation is not rare.
This leads to another point — corporate farms, family farms, and economies of scale. It is easy to disparage “corporate” farming, but . . .
“The food police can maintain their hypocrisy by demonizing ‘factory’ or ‘corporate’ farms. But the reality is that 97 percent of all farms in the United States are family farms” (p. 122).
“It is true that some family farms are quite big. These large-scale family farms represent only about 7.5 percent of all farms in the United States, but they produce most of the food, accounting for more than 60 percent of agricultural output” (p. 122).
Returning to my earlier point about coercion, I am happily prepared to acknowledge that the elimination of subsidies from the Department of Agriculture would change the picture drastically for a number of these farms, a result I would be quite prepared to cheer on. Some of these farms would get bigger, and some smaller. But all of them, and all of us, would get freer.
But suppose a true free market in agriculture. We still have the task of feeding the world, all seven billion of us, and boutique farming isn’t going to do it. This does not mean that I am against niche farming at all — I am not, and God bless them. I am simply saying the entire job at hand is much bigger than that.
“Pollan tells us that, in a year, the Virginia-based Polyface farm produces 30,000 dozen eggs, 12,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 25,000 pounds of beef, 50,000 pounds of pork, 800 turkeys, and 500 rabbits. Add it all up and it amounts to about 300,000 calories per acre. Impressive! Or is it? When an efficient large-scale farmer plants his field with corn, he yields over 15 million calories per acre” (p. 166).
If you look at the Polyface web site, they say this: “We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.” This is a bit much because — ironically — it doesn’t claim enough. If their web site said “the best eggs in North America,” we could take it in the same spirit that we do when we see a restaurant sporting a sign that says “voted the best hamburger in Spokane.” We all understand hyperbole, and what the “cutest grandchild ever” means. But this seems to be a serious claim, and so I would dispute it on its own terms. I don’t believe feeding the world with boutique farms is “sustainable.” But — and this is important, crucial — I believe that we are enriched by the presence of Polyface Farms and similar endeavors, and this is because I believe that we are all enriched by liberty. If I am wrong about farming on this scale, and by these methods, and if we stay far away from coercion, we will see the market sort it out and farms like Polyface will spring up everywhere — and I will cheerfully eat a little organic crow. But I would rather it not be free-range crow. I’ve seen those guys on the highway.
One last comment about my writing on this and related issues. I am what Stewart Davenport would call — in his Friends of Unrighteous Mammon — a “clerical economist.” But though I am a minister, I am not willing to pronounce on menu choices from the pulpit. Tofu is adiaphora, and my views on it are not part of the ministerium. At the same time, I am willing to insist on certain closely related subjects. I am willing to insist on the correspondence view of objective truth, the authority of argument, logic as an attribute of God, hermeneutics as both art and science, the goodness of market liberties, and an absolute rejection of all amphigorial postmodernism. Within those liberating boundaries, the only authority I would want for my arguments would be located in the relative soundness of them.
Two of the Left’s favorite slogans: ” My Body, My Choice!” and “Ban Trans Fats!”.
I am thankful you have the energy to fight this stuff. I figured my role is to just pray . However, I just hit instapundit and found a link to
“Toward a Feminist Postcolonial Milk Studies”
I give up. I have nothing in common with these people anymore.
Thank you for what you do.
Hey, I have an idea: Let’s pretend Proverbs 18:17 is my life verse, so when I state my case first, and refuse to listen to the other side, no one will realize I’m just perpetrating Sacred violence.
I think it was VanTil who said there is no neutrality. One world view will stand triumphant in the public square. The vanquished will pay homage or be punished. The Christian world view has been vanquished. The High Priests of the New Morality demand obsequiousness. Those who dare oppose them are destroyed. Sadly, Christians have bought into this New Morality regarding food hook, line and sinker. I enjoy my Hershey’s chocolate in moderation. Individuals try to shame me for my unrighteousness. ‘Healthy’ is the new Shibboleth. Woe to those who cannot pronounce it.
SWAT raids on dairy farms are ludicrous, of course, but I must be reading too much Charles Murray and R.R. Reno. Measures like the Bloomberg soda ban are starting to look like a wise touch of noblesse oblige. We have to face the fact that a significant portion of our population has an IQ below 80 and an unhealthy lack of self control. If you think its hard getting them to put down the soda now, try getting them to take their insulin later.
“Liberal” is the new “uncircumcised”. With all the unsavory connotations that had come to have in Jesus’ day.
Arguing that people should leave each other alone is sacred violence?
Scott, we could do far more with regard to helping people live responsible lives if we got the government out of the education business instead of trying to get them into the food business.
“liberals don’t care what you do, so long as it is mandatory” “Anything to grow the girth of the state. They want control of the food supply, and they want it to further their statist ends.” “The modern foodie movement is native to the Left, and is therefore just two steps away from making whatever it is compulsory.” “But it needs to be acknowledged that the overwhelming ethos of the contemporary foodie movement is statist in its assumptions. Orwell’s vision of the totalitarian future was a boot stepping on a human face forever. These soft despots want to do it… Read more »
Also indicative of sacred violence, your posts encourage, people to make fun of those liberals based off a conservative hit piece that mocks the title of an article, and you do not correct them.
It is true that obesity is a major problem in our country due to the fact that food is plentiful. Gluttony is a sin that is rampant in the U. S. Fast food contributes to the problem, of course. We need to downsize our portions and eat meals that are more balanced and nutritous. We also need to increase the amount of excercise we get. Unfortunately, in today’s society, we are mostly sedantary.
Matthew Petersen, with all due respect…
Matt, that list of things you cite is what I object to as sacred violence. I am against food-based coercion — fines, imprisonment, licensing, permits, all that jazz. They are the ones who will come and take you away for food sins. How is it sacred violence to object to sacred violence?
Sometimes I think a little genie of the old school takes over your fingers when you sit down to comment. Perhaps a little dousing in some scripture wouldn’t hurt. Instead of using the ludicrous term ‘sacred violence’, perhaps you should show us where Jesus or the prophets condemned such commentary. I think you’ll have to squeeze those fingers real hard.
Sacred violence is a concept from Girard. Communities form their coherence (and escape from the evils of mimetic violence) by finding a scapegoat to team up on. In teaming up on the scapegoat, the community acts unified, and so finds coherence and peace. We can usually see it pretty easily when other people do it–like when the Huffington Post posted pictures of all the senators who oppose the rape exception to abortion, or their rather ludicrous treatment of Mourdock’s comments. By ganging up on “Conservatives” they give coherence to their platform, eliminate rivalries within it, and suck more people into… Read more »
Doug: It is true (as my last post shows) that liberals often participate in sacred violence. That does not mean you don’t. Indeed, that you would be imitating their sacred violence seems to be exactly in line with my charge, not a counter to it.
Joshua: You say that the term is “ludicrous”. Do you mean it’s a ludicrous charge, or that it’s a silly term? It isn’t a term I invented, and the reference to Scripture is embedded in the term.
Matt, this requires a longer response which I will try to get to soon. But quickly, our unity in Christ is not victimless precisely because He was the Victim, and we have been crucified with Christ. We participate in that death — He was the propitiation for our sins, which means high octane Girard is out. And secondly, if you categorize “arguing a side” as sacred violence, or arguing it vigorously, then you get caught in a self-contradictory pose, because you have to use sacred violence on those who insist on using “sacred violence.”
Matthew, what’s with the “sacred violence” term? Is this an attempt at sophistication? It sounds like another euphemism for uncritical tolerance of things we don’t agree with. All Doug did (rightly, I might add) is state his viewpoint on the coercive nature of many liberal policies, which they are. Neither Doug (nor most followers of this blog) “refuse” to listen to the other side. We do listen, and we disagree where applicable, in the spirit of cordial debate (hopefully cordial most of the time). Is it the term “liberal” that you do not like? You stated that “liberal” is the new “uncircumcised”. … Read more »
Matt: If Doug’s approach is equivalent to Girard’s concept of “sacred violence,” and is thereby preaching a false gospel, how do you see Scripture teaching us to speak against coercion? Can you give an example of how you would warn readers to not be deceived by the philosophy that endorses controlling what other people eat?
Pr. Wilson: Briefly, I agree with you about Christ as the victim, and by “victimless” I did not mean to exclude Christ, but to exclude other victims. That is, I’m accusing you of treating Liberals something like you accuse Conservatives of treating each other here: http://dougwilson.wpengine.com/s22-money-love-desire/what-makes-satans-factories-hum.html Also, it isn’t that you are disagreeing with liberals that I object to (though I think your disagreements are very flat, which is related, but not quite on point), but that this review is extremely one-sided, with your opponents categorically castigated, not for what they say, but simply for “being liberal”, and their supposed motives… Read more »
I mean, in those quotes. There is engagement later, after we’ve already learned they are wrong.
Dan: I’d prefer he didn’t poison the well against his opponents, treated their arguments with respect, as arguments that real humans seeking real goods, with real points, and no ulterior motives, and refered to them by name and title. And no, it’s not sophisticated, it’s a very serious charge, as Pr. Wilson’s response, and David’s did too.
Matthew: Maybe I’m one of the aforementioned folk with an I.Q. under 80, but I’m not following you. Suppose A is committed to various acts of sacred violence. Any person B who calls out A’s sacred violence is automatically vulnerable to the countercharge that he is just trying to unite his own constituency by aligning them against common enemy A — which is to say, B stands accused of sacred violence. But there must be some righteous means to call out A’s sins — God did it through His prophets often enough. How might one call out the sacred violence… Read more »
Matthew, Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy,d drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. When I see the fruits of the flesh… Read more »
Matt, I think you are attempting to instruct Pastor Wilson in the Marquess of Fantailler (Queensberry in the vernacular) rules for argumentation. But our esteemed opponents play by the Devil’s rules. They welcome your consideration on your behalf, but will not repay you in kind. Also, I think a lot of people around the world would be surprised to discover they’ve been referencing Scripture all along, just because they used Sacred in a term or phrase. And yes, I think it is both a silly term (perhaps useful once, but not in today’s climate) and a clearly ludicrous charge that… Read more »
Matthew, the issue is individual freedom versus coercion; it has nothing to do with whether the coercers might be correct in their dietary agenda. They have no business telling — telling, not engaging in conversation or even debate/argument — other people what, how, and whether or not they can, should, or must eat or abstain from eating anything. They certainly have no business getting forcible legislation to enforce their agenda. Must there be arrests, beatings, imprisonment, rather than mere fines and fees, before you can recognize the illegitimacy and ultimate criminal brutality behind it? That is the issue. Men and… Read more »
Matt: I recognize the seriousness of your question in general, but I don’t see how it applies to Doug’s post. “Sacred violence” refers to scapegoating, which is blaming someone for the sins of others and targeting him for punishment that others deserve. Better to describe NYC’s targeting of shop owners with a fine for serving large soft drinks as “sacred violence” because shopkeepers are being blamed for someone else’s lack of self control and receiving the punishment (even assuming that consuming a certain quantity of sugar ought to be classified as a crime in the first place!) At least that… Read more »
As the earth turns, the short days of winter are getting longer and soon spring is upon us. Spring reminds us of our regeneration in Christ and it also a time to be outside enjoying Idaho. Matthew, or anyone else, who wishes to exercise their right to Sacred Violence is welcome to visit my place, pick up a shovel or a pick ax and prove that they can walk, talk and work all at the same time. After all, what is more enjoyable than claiming the land and making it into a useful and beautiful garden. I have plenty of… Read more »
You guys are easily trolled. Move on.
The complete inability of most of the commenters, especially Pastor Wilson, to even try to engage with what Matthew actually said is frustrating.
Jonathan, I’m not sure why you’re frustrated. It seems obvious that Matthew wasn’t intending to “engage” Pastor Wilson’s argument, but instead express disdain at Wilson’s use of the term “liberal” apparently. It’s Wilson’s blog, and he put forth an argument, a point of view. Matthew stated: “…so when I state my case first, and refuse to listen to the other side, no one will realize I’m just perpetrating Sacred violence.” Of course Wilson stated his case first, since it’s his blog for Pete’s sake. The “listening” comes in when someone puts forth an alternative viewpoint. This blog fosters debate, and Pastor Wilson encourages… Read more »
Thanks, Pr. Wilson, great article/review! While I believe we do well to heed a Michael Pollan’s observations on the subject of food, it’s his prescriptions that produce the problem for me. For example, I’m definitely no fan of Monsanto and other representatives of Big Ag, for working cheek-by-jowl with Big Gov to regulate and intimidate the small, independent farmer out of the market, etc., but, like you, I part ways with these folks when their solution is more government, the very thing, by the way, that keeps the Big Ag (or a lot of Big Anything) bad boys in business in this one-time constitutional republic, now corporatocracy! I want a… Read more »
Jonathan — what Dan said.
This debate, and particularly Matthew’s arguments, reminds me of the Zacharias quote that was brought out in a previous set of comments (and surely elsewhere). Namely, that the either/or emerges rather fundamentally from the world. Of course, this is essentially the same argument Doug regularly makes regarding “not whether but which”, and what both quotes remind us is that the world Matthew wants to live in is a world of his own making (which is something Doug anticipated in naming the correspondence view of truth as a boundary). … Read more »
I hate when Jesus used the language of sacred violence against those scapegoat Pharisees.
He was ultra-violent rhetorically against “the rich”!
And St Paul’s abhorrent rhetoric against the “Party of the Circumcised”… don’t get me started. Also, remember what the Apostle said about those poor Cretens?
We need to start regulating ourselves as to what we eat and drink. The problem is that we have not been making healthy choices for quite a while. How many of us consume vegetables and fruit on a daily basis? How many of us excercise for roughly one hour a day? How many of us eat moderate portions? It is important that we regain a healthy lifestyle in this nation. The number one killer, I have heard, is obesity!
This reader is still eagerly awaiting the day when Pr. Wilson will take seriously the question, “How should we then farm?”
“This reader is still eagerly awaiting the day when Pr. Wilson will take seriously the question, “How should we then farm?” ” While Pr. W will speak for himself, but when I look at his character, methods and teaching the answer for we Christians when we need an answer is “what do the scriptures say?”. I will start with 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Now, Pastor Wilson has taught me to always consider context when reading scripture–who is the author talking too, what… Read more »
Thanks for the response, Timothy, and I think that’s a good Scripture to start from. Everything I know about factory farming disqualifies it from any reasonable interpretation of “farming to the glory of God,” regardless of how many calories per acre it might produce.
As a man who had a cow poop on his front yard last week, I share your abhorrence to treating any animal like a Socialist treats a human being.
I don’t have an answer to this and I am genuinely curious about the right way to approach this.
Should we wait a day or two and let others chime in to get some more context? (my preference)
Timothy and Matt:
Having read your latest postings here, I appreciate what you’re attempting to get at. I’m not saying this individual has got it all down (He’d no doubt admit he’s still learning!), but perhaps it would also be a good thing to see how some amongst us, like Mr. Herrick Kimball here at “The Deliberate Agrarian”, attempt to embody “farming to the glory of God”:
Mr. Kimball is a Christian, of the Reformed variety, I believe. I’ve found his articles both enjoyable and instructive.
Blessings and Happy New Year!
Pr. Wilson, Dan’s post is absolute. It isn’t that he says liberal, but that he tells us what *they * are really about, and uses that as an excuse not to listen. He begins by poisoning the well “Liberals don’t care what you do, so long as it is mandatory”. Oh really? Let’s try this from the other side: “Wilson doesn’t care what you say, so long as you cow-tow to his position.” There are people who say that. What do you think they’re doing? What do you think they’re doing, Doug? Are they not, as in my example from… Read more »
Dan and Pastor Wilson – it has nothing to do with which term Pastor Wilson uses. The idea that the issue was the term “liberal” didn’t even occur to me. The problems that Matthew Peterson has with what Pastor Wilson was saying are clearly laid out, and to claim that he “doesn’t like the term ‘liberal'” is a complete distraction from the reasoning he actually gave to you. Instead of assuming his motives and reacting to what he is supposedly thinking, why not just reply to what he actually said?
“Pollan tells us that, in a year, the Virginia-based Polyface farm produces 30,000 dozen eggs, 12,000 broilers, 800 stewing hens, 25,000 pounds of beef, 50,000 pounds of pork, 800 turkeys, and 500 rabbits. Add it all up and it amounts to about 300,000 calories per acre. Impressive! Or is it? When an efficient large-scale farmer plants his field with corn, he yields over 15 million calories per acre”………………………………………….. I don’t know what the original context of this Lusk statement is, but putting it out-of-context in this post is a fantastic representation of how badly you’re missing the issues at hand… Read more »
First off, the Polyface farm produces MEAT. Anyone knows that meat production produces a tiny % of the calorie output of corn production. What Polyface is trying to do is create a more sustainable way of producing meat. If Pastor Wilson and Lusk are arguing that everyone should switch to a corn-only diet? If not, then why the heck are they comparing Polyface to a large-scale corn farm? It’s a completely pointless exercise unless you are anti-meat entirely.
Second, the large majority of corn production isn’t even for human consumption. Most corn is produced for animal feed and biofuels. And the stuff that is produced for human consumption is primarily made into corn syrup, corn oil, and cornmeal – the kind of stuff that contributes little to human health and quite a bit to obesity. So to compare corn production to a diverse small farm’s production is ridiculous – it’s not apples and oranges, it’s apples and non-food.
So why is a corn figure quoted and not some other food? Because the number for, say, beans or lettuce would have been a fraction of that, much less impressive looking. And an actual equal comparison, to meat production, of course, would have been right in the same ballpark. 70% of all land related to agricultural production is devoted to the meat industry, primarily for feeding the wealthy, because the calories/acre in meat production isn’t that good anywhere. If we replaced all the world’s current meat production with small diverse family farms suited to their land, there’d be no problem… Read more »
The other problem with that figure is pretending that such a farm exists independently acre-by-acre. What are the real costs to other acres that the factory farm ignores? How much pesticide and fertilizer and antibiotics and special feed is added to that acre in a factory farm, and how much energy and land was used to produce all of that? Where does all the pesticides and fertilizer and antibiotics and waste products that you’ve dumped into your land flow out to, and how much land and water downstream is being destroyed in that process? Since the produce isn’t sold locally,… Read more »