Can We Blame Fat on a Free Market?

There appears to be a food war raging out there.

The Economist reports on the USDA concept of the "food desert": areas where low-income families have no access to healthy fresh food. A little digging reveals that, thanks to roadside greengrocers, farmers' markets, and general car-granted mobility, even most lower-income eaters have access to decent food—it's just not something they're choosing to eat. Or almost anyone is choosing to eat, actually.

Meanwhile, The Independent has a report on Vend Natural, purportedly the fastest-growing healthy vending snack company in America, with 420 machines slinging items such as apple chips, wheat and cheddar crackers, kettle corn popcorn, and all-natural granola bars. The machines are on the rise, but before you get too optimistic about their immediate impact, remember that there are millions of other vending machines in the U.S., overwhelmingly packed with life-destroying sugar water and cheap candy bars that the Europeans rightfully laugh at for their terrible flavor.

And Eater writes about a woman who may go to jail for the heinous crime of turning her front yard into a vegetable garden, a use of land found "unsuitable" by the city planner of Oak Park, Michigan. Why unsuitable? It's not grass. Never mind that producing healthy local food is thought by some (the first lady, for example) to be an urgent priority; lawns gotta be grass.

Take all these recent stories together, and you get a sense of a culture in turmoil. Our fat, self-loathing, unhealthy country is fundamentally torn. On one hand, our bodies have coached us to love fats, sweets, and charred meats, and we pride ourselves on having both freedom of choice and the wisdom to use it well.

On the other hand, if you give an animal access to healthy food that fulfills its nutritional needs and devastatingly unhealthy food that tastes extremely delicious, the animal will eat the latter and pork out every time—and we're most assuredly animals, victims of our own evolution and metabolism. Solving the problem will require some combination of iron will-power and/or tinkering with the way food is sold and distributed and/or government intervention.

In wrestling with the country's groaning waistline, politicians and public thinkers will hit every high-voltage line out there: issues of personal versus collective responsibility, entrenched businesses interests, and the fundamentally challenging hurdle of the human body's love of eating bacon-wrapped hot dogs washed down with a refreshing Pepsi-Cola.

Our right to choose our meals is squaring off with fat toddlers and epidemics of strokes and heart disease. The ideology of healthy living is fighting against the concept of the utterly unchained free market. Personal responsibility is lining up to battle the idea of communal responsibility.

If you're not already watching the food war as a titanic battle, start scanning the news with that framework in mind—there's a lot out there right now, and there'll be a lot more to come.

Image source: Vendnatural.com