David Cassuto (x-post from Animal Blawg)

Amidst all the topsy turvy election results, one can easily start obsessing about the nation’s future.  Or, one can cling to the words of Lee Hays whose comment on the 1980 election results was: “This too shall pass; I’ve had kidney stones and I know.”  But was he right?  It depends on what issues matter to you.

One of the dominant themes of this election was a sense of voter outrage with the actions (or inaction) of the government.  I too am outraged, but for entirely different reasons than were discussed by either party.  I’m outraged by the government’s entrenched, callous, and bizarre complicity in the hegemony of industrial food.

When Domino’s Pizza started losing market share (ostensibly because its pizza sucked), Dairy Management stepped in and helped devise a new pizza with 40% more cheese.  It then underwrote a $12 million marketing campaign that vaulted Domino’s right back into the thick of the pizza wars.  One might wax indignant that a marketing company would help Domino’s devise a food so clearly counter to the national aims of combating obesity (1 slice contains 2/3 of the recommended daily intake of saturated fat).  One might also rail against a product that dramatically increases animal suffering (by ratcheting up dairy consumption).  One might further argue — with cause — that this marketing firm lacks a conscience and that the government ought to reach out to the private sector and try and increase cooperation toward the shared goal of reducing suffering –both human and nonhuman.   

Except that Dairy Management is the government.   It’s the USDA — the self- same agency that is spearheading an anti-obesity drive that advocates curtailing consumption of the very products that Dairy Management is spending millions to promote.  You can get lots more details from this excellent piece in the NYT, but here’s a brief excerpt:

Urged on by government warnings about saturated fat, Americans have been moving toward low-fat milk for decades, leaving a surplus of whole milk and milk fat. Yet the government, through Dairy Management, is engaged in an effort to find ways to get dairy back into Americans’ diets, primarily through cheese.

Americans now eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, nearly triple the 1970 rate. Cheese has become the largest source of saturated fat; an ounce of many cheeses contains as much saturated fat as a glass of whole milk.

When Michelle Obama implored restaurateurs in September to help fight obesity, she cited the proliferation of cheeseburgers and macaroni and cheese. “I want to challenge every restaurant to offer healthy menu options,” she told the National Restaurant Association’s annual meeting.

But in a series of confidential agreements approved by agriculture secretaries in both the Bush and Obama administrations, Dairy Management has worked with restaurants to expand their menus with cheese-laden products.

This situation would be almost comic if the results weren’t so grievous.  It’s not enough that the USDA has to subsidize and enable factory farming that brutalizes billions of animals, befouls our air and water and fills our and our children’s bodies with antibiotics  and hormones — all at tremendous direct and indirect cost to taxpayers.  No, in addition to all that, the USDA must also spend millions more of our dollars promoting the consumption of the very foods its pretending to educate us not to eat.

The old cliche of parents telling their children to “Do as I say, not as I do”  needs to be rewritten for today’s times.  Today, we have the government telling us to “Do as we pretend to tell you not to do while we spend billions of your dollars enabling and promoting the behavior we’re supposedly discouraging.” It’s not as catchy but it has widespread and rock-solid bipartisan support.

Faced with this behavior by their government, voters  should be angry.  Indeed, they should be livid.  And everyone says they are — just not about this.  And that’s the problem.

Nowadays, when people tell me I should vote my conscience, I just smile and change the subject.