Food is for White Liberals What Sex Is For The Religious Right

It occurred to me a few weeks ago after a discussion based on a pro-GMO post Kavin wrote for Grounded Parents. Bring up reproductive rights and liberals shake their heads and remark on the incredible cognitive dissonance of the Religious Right. Sure, the Right is “small government” in theory, but it’s about sex, liberals shrug. It’s about policing women’s bodies and an obsessive desire to control what happens in people’s bedrooms. It’s a complete fear and denial of scientific data in favor of emotionally overblown gut reaction.

Then you bring up GMOs. Or locally sourced meat. Or whatever diet is trendy that week.

Food, and how to eat it as “responsibly” as possible, with a particular focus on “where it comes from,” has become the hot-button topic of white liberals. Witness the euphoria surrounding the dawn of food trucks. Witness the Locavore movement. Witness the spot-on “Local Chicken” sketch on Portlandia––those of us who live in “progressive cities,” like my own Madison, laugh at this parody because we’ve heard similar exchanges so many times.

Listening to the timbre of the conversations at the Dane County Farmers Market, one of the largest in the country, you’d think the topic was vaccination or Gaza. “What exactly is in this scone?” “Are your emus happy? How much space do they have to roam free?” “When you say ‘flour’ on the label, what kind of flour is that?”

Yet food pantries remain full of the same canned pumpkin and expired boxed meals they always have. Obese people are shamed and told what to eat, while people deemed skinny enough to have an eating disorder are also shamed for not taking care of their “health.” There is a serious disconnect here that should tell anyone who’s paying attention that this is not about justice or health in any form––it is about vanity.

When asking the server how the animal being served was prepared, no one seems to wonder whether that server has basic health insurance or whether that server is affected by the fact that the restaurant industry has one of the highest rates of sexual harassment and lowest rates of pay. When waxing poetic about the “salt of the Earth” farmers from which they buy their unpasteurized milk, no one seems to worry that an estimated 10 percent of American farm workers are children. When pearl-clutching over the things we “don’t know” about GMOs, as Kavin pointed out, no one seems to be concerned about their presence in groceries found at Price Rite––only products sold at Whole Foods.

If you are not as concerned about the people handing you your food in the restaurant as you are about the pigs on the farm where it was grown, your approach is classist. If you are more concerned about the availability of food trucks in the neighboring town than whether its residents actually want them (thanks to my dear friend Tina for setting me straight on this one), or if you buy things like this (thanks to Heina for that find), your approach is imperialist. If you start telling someone all about your new trendy diet or asking them about theirs without knowing if they have an eating disorder that may be triggered by your prattle, your approach is ableist. If you tsk-tsk at people who are overweight for what they are eating and claim you’re concerned about their health, yet you’re not actively campaigning to make healthy food more accessible and affordable, your approach is sickening and I don’t want you in my activism.

I want the Religious Right out of my bedroom and the White Liberal Food Police out of my kitchen. Is that so much to ask?

Julia Burke

Julia is a wine educator with an interest in labor and politics in the wine industry. She has also written about fitness and exercise science, mental health, beer, and a variety of other topics for Skepchick. She has been known to drink Amaro Montenegro with PB&J.

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  1. Thank you so much for the local chicken link. I had never seen that before. You just made my day.

    1. Punchdrunk,

      From what I understand the “Paleo diet” isn’t even based on what the typical cave man actually ate.

      Debunking the paleo diet: Christina Warinner at TEDxOU

      1. I can’t wait for the Magical Negro childcare plan and the Chinese Secret line of cleaning products.

      2. Another great source for real science on “paleo” claims (and also related evo-psych claims) is Marlene Zuk’s book Paleofantasy. It’s excellently written, clearly argued, and has a wealth of biological information, and I think Dr. Zuk’s sense of humor is great. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

          1. We read Paleofantasy last year in the Boston Skeptics/Skepchick Book Club, and Mary wrote one of her typically fascinating and detailed reviews of it. Highly recommended.

      3. Interesting stuff, though I would caution that modern “paleo” and “primal” diets aren’t simply based in eating everything cavemen ate. That’s just marketing. The actual diets tend to stress large amounts of non-starchy vegetables along with “naturally” raised meats such as grassfed beef. They are pretty similar to the Adkins diet, South Beach, and other similar diets which limit starch and sugar intake.

        1. But aren’t cattle, by virtue of selective breeding, *gasp* genetically modified, relative to aurochs? ;)

          The problem is that traditional dietary advice fails a lot of people (largely because, well, traditional dietary advice is on shaky ground itself, and most junk food has been rejiggered to be low-fat, high-carb, and, where possible, vegetarian*), so of course people become convinced the South Pole is warmer than the North Pole.

          *Oreos, for instance, are actually vegan. That ‘creme filling’ is exactly as real as my spellcheck says it is.

  2. Julia Burke,

    The far left views food, the same way the religious right views sex, interesting analogy.

  3. For the most part I think you make some very good points. But I think that to suggest that asking for information (asking vendors to tell you about the content of their goods or the happiness of their animals) implies that you don’t care about other people’s situations is total bullshit. There may be a big overlap between people who don’t care about others and people who ask for a lot of information about their prospective meal, but the direct connection is not there. If I don’t want to buy or consume some animal’s body parts I need to ask for the information I need to carry out my own personal choices. That doesn’t make me inconsiderate of restaurant workers, and it doesn’t imply that I don’t care about betterment of their working conditions.

    1. Well said, Jennifer! Thanks for that.

      I know many vegans, for example, who ask for details about the food being offered at a restaurant or farmers market, who also care deeply about the well-being of the farm workers, restaurant staff, etc.

      I suppose the author of this article–if she knew the kinds of words that regularly come out of my mouth–might say I belong to the White Liberal Food Police.

      The attention I give to food and our food system, however, is inspired by what I have learned about the great harm that our food choices can have on people (workers, public health, individual health), the environment (climate change, pollution, deforestation), and animals (routine factory farm cruelty; unnecessary suffering and killing).

      I suppose it’s true that there are white liberals out there saying ridiculous things about food. Maybe I’m fortunate that so much of the food-related discussion I hear from white liberals (and progressives of all ethnicities) seems to be based in a genuine concern for making the world a better place.

      I can’t support the idea that food is for white liberals what sex is for the religious right. And I have trouble understanding how any advocate for social justice can make light of the growing attention being paid to our food choices, when it is abundantly clear that our food choices can have very harmful–or possibly very beneficial–impacts on people, our environment, and animals.

      Recently, I excitedly posted on Facebook about an announcement that a major retailer was going to start stocking a new vegan product. While I didn’t explicitly say in my post that I was so excited about this announcement because it was good for people, our environment, and animals, that’s exactly why I made a point of sharing the story.

      1. Her point of the analogy between “white liberal food police” and the “religious right” is that both camps deny science and reply on conspiracy theories, scare stores, and outright lies to spread their conviction that they are right, and they should control every aspect of what you put into yourself because we don’t know what’s right for ourselves. Conspiracy theories? Hello, Natural News and Infowars. Scare stores? Hello, Mercola, Whole Foods’ and Trader Joes’ marketing departments, and the entire “natural healing” industry. Outright lies? Where to begin — either with the idea that GMO-based crops and foods somehow poison the environment, kill honeybees, create “superweeds,” destroy monach butterflies; or else they’re a cancer-causing agent that creates mutations, stunts our growth, and causes every mysterious malady for which we have no cure, especially autism and every form of cancer out there…

    2. Yeah. I have celiac disease. If I don’t ask what kind of flour is in something, I am taking the chance that I will spend the next six hours in the bathroom and the next six days in a foggy world of pain. Do I care about workers? Sure I do. But my primary concern about food is going to be whether or not it will hurt me until people start labelling things accurately and not hedging around with this “we think it’s probably OK but eat at your own risk” BS that’s primarily about avoiding legal complications rather than disclosing the actual contents.

  4. This is spot on.

    I’m a white liberal, and I think of myself as pretty jaded about some of my fellow travelers. I also know that I can slide into elitist thinking myself. But the “Noble Savage” page was a jaw-dropper for me. I mean really?…REALLY?

  5. Noble. Savage.

    It’s like an Avatar and Dancing With Wolves DVD set vomited up a terrible, unscientifically supported diet.

    1. Minus the fact that Dances with Wolves gave us the Spears brothers. But these days, Hollywood prefers not to hire real Indians, opting instead for Johnny Depp, Taylor Lautner, and Booboo Stewart.

  6. Great article. I think think your comparison between conservatives and sex versus liberals and food is very apt.

  7. Great, now all my ads are touting the new “skinny pill”.

    I would say that this is very true of a certain segment of the left. Another subject you don’t want to bring up to that same group is medicine.

    1. It’s not just the left. Michele Bachmann says the HPV vaccine will make your kids ‘retarded’ (her words, not mine). But that’s neither here nor there.

      The problem is that you see these aristos not caring if their opinions influence leaders in countries with actual famine issues. First World privilege at its worst. Yeah, see that fruit vendor over there? Look at his teeth. Yes, that’s scurvy. (Seriously, a colleague of mine was teaching in Zimbabwe, when he met a fruit vendor with scurvy! In a so-called ‘Marxist’ country! Seeing this, he gave out multivitamins to his students, and the school accused him of giving out amphetamines.)

      Interestingly, Kos has banned anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists from his site. But apparently the shill gambit doesn’t go away. I mean, I understand when we’re dealing with tobacco companies or fossil fuel companies because, you know, they did that exact thing.

  8. Great article, I just have one quibble:
    “If you tsk-tsk at people who are overweight for what they are eating and claim you’re concerned about their health, yet you’re not actively campaigning to make healthy food more accessible and affordable, your approach is sickening and I don’t want you in my activism.”
    I don’t care if you’re actively campaigning to make healthy food more accessible and affordable, you still don’t get to tsk-tsk at other people about their food choices or their weight. There’s no amount of campaigning for anything that makes that okay. Also, I am not “overweight”. Over what weight? Everyone is the weight that they are. I and everyone else is a weight, not over or under weight.

    1. You’re absolutely right. I used the term “overweight” without indicating my issues with it, and it’s completely arbitrary and problematic. I realize now that I’ve generally been shying away from the term “fat,” which I suspect is a reflection of the internalized fat-shaming of my past more than anything since it’s the term I see many anti-fat-stigma and HAES activists embracing and reclaiming. I often wish for better language for this topic––particularly language that does not rely on comparison to a standard.

      In this instance, I should’ve either put “overweight” in scare quotes to indicate my disapproval of the concept or chosen a more concise version of “greater than what is conventionally and culturally deemed acceptable size.” Thank you for a well-taken point.

  9. We can add the use of the phrase “fluffer for Monsanto” (Which also demonstrates ignorance of how the modern porn industry works, but that’s another story.) as exactly the same as the religious right, same misogyny and everything.

    I’m sorry you had to go through that, Kavin; you should see some of the Israel/Palestine debates on DKos. The good news being that you had people who agreed with you, and you were willing to compromise (labeling GMO-free foods as such, rather than labeling foods containing GMOs).

    1. Jon, I didn’t think of it that way! Yep, Monsanto Fluffer. I wasn’t aware of what it meant until one of my friends told me. Even if that person wasn’t aware of the meaning, at least some of the readers that rec’d the comment must have. (which is apparently Kos’ version of liking.)

      1. Yeah, the difficulty is, as you know, some people really will shill for anyone. But we know those people by name; they got their start with the tobacco industry and have since moved on to energy. (‘Clean’ [sic] coal, “oh, there’s plenty of oil”, “the farmland to grow biofuels will in no way take land away from food”.)

        The titles were a bit of an emotional appeal (“kind-hearted parents”), but the fact that we could produce plants that resist insects or flooding, and the notion that, seriously, there are parts of the world where one bad season could kill thousands, says a lot.

        Just the other day I was having a time explaining on Facebook that DNA and proteins break apart during digestion.

  10. I don’t understand what this means: “If you are more concerned about the availability of food trucks in the neighboring town than whether its residents actually want them”

  11. Love your post, but I work for an anti-hunger organization, so I feel the need to set the record straight. Many food pantries have a wide variety of foods available beyond pumpkin and discarded box meals. Most Food Banks now purchase the majority of their foods for distribution at whole sale costs rather than rely on donation drive food.

    1. Many, but perhaps not all, or even most? In my observation while volunteering at pantries and in the observations of people I’ve spoken to, most recently after an excellent panel at WisCon called “The Politics of Being Poor,” the vast majority of food pantry offerings are nutritional middleweights at very best (and often pretty awful). My point was that the content of food pantries is vastly different from the kind of food enjoyed by many who claim to “vote with their forks” and “shop responsibly,” and I find this disconnect telling.

      No doubt there exist genuine efforts by organizations like yours to improve this, and I applaud your work in that regard.

  12. I swear by the FSM itself that I will eat poutine for dinner tomorrow, and I will not ask where the potatoes or curds came from.

  13. Going to have to disagree. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in health food and “natural” food stores. They get a LOT of their business from Right-Wingers, especially a certain sort of Christian. The reason Eden Natural Foods is going all Hobby Lobby on women is the owners’ right-wingnut Christian principles. Similarly with the anti-vaccine crazies. You hear about Leftie anti-vaxxers, but the surveys show the condition is equally prevalent among Conservatives.

    1. Sex-negativity and shaming comes from the left too – neither of these things are entirely one sided. However, they both have associations in numbers and in perceptions with one side or the other of political life.

  14. “Are your emus happy?” This was my favorite sentence of the weekend. I wish I needed a new sig line somewhere….

    Totally agree on the substance, though. Just tonight I was arguing at DailyKos that the GMO obsession is really no different than Hobby Lobby. It’s a philosophical position on a science policy issue that should be decided on science, and not on someone’s particular philosophy which is then legally spread on others who may not share that philosophy.

  15. This post is a giant appeal to emotion fallacy. It implies that caring where food came from somehow implies that nobody cares about HOW it was brought here or WHO brought it there. It also seems to imply that if you don’t care and your apple and hamburger meat at Wal-Mart, that you somehow do care about the workers who picked it – wat?

    This post very very broadly cohorts people and you could easily draw up a bad-chart Thursday graphic from this.

    Also, if it wasn’t for liberal food concern, I doubt fair-trade food products come to exist.

    1. Ick and sorry for the horrible grammar. I’m just used to edit buttons being everywhere these days.

      Also to add: I agree with you about the judgement bit, but I starkly disagree with the criticism of wanting to innovate on the agriculture behind food, or the implication that not caring about your food’s source somehow makes you cognizant of food-workers rights.

      1. I took it as more hypocrisy that they care about the animals but not the humans involved, dr dr professor. Not caring about the animals OR humans might just mean you’re ignorant in general. But caring about how animals are raised but not thinking about how the servers are treated etc, yeah, that’s ridiculous.

  16. Great post. Clearly being liberal, conservative, religious or atheist doesn’t exempt the human animal from hubris or seeking a status rung above our neighbor. I personally think food should be labeled for how much waste was involved in its production.

    1. Clearly it doesn’t. Liberal =! enlightened.

      There are some great topics brought up in this post, but the author addresses them with a simplistic “all concerns about food == the food police in my kitchen! STAY OUT OF MY KITCHEN!”. It’s a pretty simplistic and fallacious way of addressing real issues in food politics.

      I personally have a big beef (pun intended) with a lot of modern agricultural practices due to the fact that I have a lot of family in rural India and I’ve seen their region being widely exploited by large agricultural companies trying to get cheap food out of the people in the area. Concern about food sourcing is fucking valid, and the author’s approach of using narrow-minded emotional outrage to battle ignorance on this topic is lame.

      1. Also I hate the non-stop implications that “liberal” things like coffee shops and organic stores are things only “privileged white people” like, as if we minorities all come from dirty urban squats and hate that stuff because we’re either poor, or FOBs who can barely speak English.

        Newsflash, I like drum circles, coffee shops and farmers’ markets too :p.

        1. Yes, there’s the faintest whiff of “Dear Muslima” to this essay. Not that I disagree with Ms. Burke. In the late 80s I regularly noticed that many of the suburban women most aghast at the notion of fur and leather jackets or live lure-coursing in Ireland could not possibly have cared less for the plight of the urban poor. And every time I show a well-intentioned suburban friend one of those “First World Problem” ads, you can actually see their jaw do that whole dropping thing that you thought was only a way of phrasing things. I’m a firm believer that most of the world’s problems reduce to class: not race, not sex, not gender orientation, not religion, not age, not infirmity.

          But it’s a mistake to conflate the efforts of educated & wealthy people to reduce inequality and suffering in their own little parochial milieus with institutional predation. Things are worse elsewhere, yes. But would you prefer that all educated and wealthy people sequester themselves behind drawbridges and tell the rest of the world “qu’ils mangent du gateau”? Driving a Prius and not watering your lawn mean nothing in Somalia, but they’re still positive things to do.

          1. //I’m a firm believer that most of the world’s problems reduce to class: not race, not sex, not gender orientation, not religion, not age, not infirmity.//

            I disagree with this strongly, discrimination against gender-identity/race/sexual orientation/disability clearly exist in force.

            My problem with race in this article is that the title implies that non-whites don’t participate or contribute to things associated with “white culture” (despite the fact that many things in “white culture” were invented or popularized by non-whites). I understand it wasn’t Julia’s intention to imply this, but the title does subtly re-enforce the perception that minorities are downtrodden people.

            Like oh gee, I’m a minority, I must not like food trucks :p.

          2. dr. dr. and anbheal,

            I’m very familiar with the “Dear Muslima” fallacy, and I can understand how my reference to Gaza (which was meant to describe the weight and tone of conversations about food sourcing, not imply that people shouldn’t care about anything else right now because Gaza) might cause you to mistake what I’m saying for that. My point is that there is an inconsistent application of the very popular principle of “responsible food” that I think we need to examine. It’s a problem that I’ve observed as a food writer, as a white liberal, as a journalist, and as someone currently applying for FoodShare in my state. I didn’t say *all* white people do this or *all* POC don’t, and to read my point as such is an example of the “not all men” fallacy. I am talking about a hypocrisy here. If I was saying, “Why do you care about what’s in your food when there are wars happening somewhere,” that would be the Dear Muslima argument. I’m asking people who care, like I do, about food justice, to apply that single principle consistently.

        2. I guess this could go a couple ways. I myself am non-white and have lots of family living in India. I would highly recommend this piece “Interview with an Indian GMO Farmer.”

          I see the lightish-haired children on the streets of India. That is just one of the benign symptoms of micro-nutrient deficiency. In the meantime, white Westerners who would much prefer a European vacation than one in a brown country are berating each other for not buying local organic. It’s a travesty. As Indian-americans, we can count ourselves among the most “privileged.”

          Concern about food sourcing is valid, but the food privilege the author describes here is very pertinent and real (I live in Madison as well, she’s not joking around.) There are much more pressing issues than whether the chicken is “cage free,” or whether the produce is organic.

          1. //There are much more pressing issues than whether the chicken is “cage free,” or whether the produce is organic.//

            Ech, but that’s the straw-man I’m raging against here, because that DOES frame the argument as liking organic == foo-foo privileged liberal who doesn’t care about workers, and boy, is that an easy image to attack.

            It doesn’t talk about specifics of food issues that are wrong and what we can do about it to make it better. And that’s what I hate about discussions on food policy, they tend to fall back to emotional strawman debates.

            For instance GMO thing is somewhat of a straw-man. What causes conditions to be better for rural farmers doesn’t usually depend much on GMO vs. Non-GMO, it’s the fairness of the market they’re working in. When dealing with international providers of food, larger companies will take an approach developed by their actuaries to get optimal prices and qualities from the farmers with little regard for how to ensure individual and environmental sustainability.

            So yeah, if we’re talking about food politics, let’s talk in specifics about what’s wrong and how we can take action to fix it rather than reducing the discussion to a bunch of straw-arguments we can get aggravated about.

          2. And I agree it wasn’t the author’s intention to imply that only white people are into this type of pretentious stuff like food trucks, drum circles, etc. On the other hand, at least having the perspective of visiting or having family in places like India highlights, to me, the silliness in some of the pretentious stuff we like. I shop in bourgie-hippie places in Madison on occasion, but I realize it’s pretentious.

      2. I think you may be missing something, or perhaps I did. I see Julia as saying that caring about whatever the current fad in the foodie world is not enough, and that disregarding the other end of the supply chain is just as bad as whatever agricultural demons you are hoping to exorcise buy being a locavore. I see no implication that the reverse (caring for the producer should negate caring for the local buyer/seller) is being claimed, in fact, I see this as an appeal (emotional or not I guess is in the eye of the reader) to take into account all of the supply chain and stop feeling smug about your own choices. Being self-righteous about GMOs while ignoring the ramifications of that privileged position does not excuse one from the moral implications of said decision and pretending that it does speaks to one’s privilege. As you have shown you care about the other end of the chain so I don’t think that message was not aimed at you, but then that’s my take on it.

        And as a side note, try not to use the word lame in this way as it is terribly ableist.

        1. Yes sorry about the ableist comment, the road away from normativity is a long one :/.

          //I see Julia as saying that caring about whatever the current fad in the foodie world is not enough, and that disregarding the other end of the supply chain is just as bad as whatever agricultural demons you are hoping to exorcise buy being a locavore.//

          I get the intention, but the entire article relies on vague easy-to-attack notions of what the problem is (err, fad diets & locavoring), who the offenders are (white liberals in liberal cities?), and what to do about it (stay out of my kitchen!).

          I just get red in the face about how a food policy debate can never exist without people reducing it to vague emotional arguments.

          1. dr. dr., I agree that an essay identifying a problem should be specific rather than vague.

            I don’t agree that every essay identifying a problem must offer a solution, but I do try to do so; here, my suggestion was for people who care about food justice to apply the principle of food justice to one’s choices in restaurants (finding out how they treat their employees and choosing them accordingly), conversations (being mindful of triggers for people with EDs, and avoiding classist or fat-shaming prejudices about what people should and shouldn’t eat), patronage of farms (asking that people be as concerned about the workers on farms as the animals when making their choices), and action in communities (making sure that farmers markets take EBT, that food pantries are well stocked, etc.). Knowing how passionately many people care about their food choices, I don’t find these requests emotionally unstable, but I suppose everything I’ve ever written has been emotional in some sense.

  17. I don’t know why you tangentially and arbitrarily invoked race here. There are serious racial issues with respect to food security and access in this country, so I don’t think we should be glib about it. Also, it doesn’t seem terrible that your friends bugged you about your food decisions — fundamentally, as Americans, we need to think more about our food decisions and the health, social, economic, and environmental impacts of those decisions.

    1. I apologize if I came off as glib, though I’m not sure how my use of the term “white liberal” throughout the piece could be seen as tangential or arbitrary––I agree completely that there are serious racial issues with respect to food security and access. That was part of my point: that while thinking about these decisions and their impacts, we need to take our privileges (class, race, ability, etc.) into account.

    2. I suspect that the bigger privilege in this case is class (although food insecurity and food deserts lean heavily into race). After all, when you are working hard to put food on your family (sorry) you don’t always have the means to worry about whether it is locally and ethically sourced, and you definitely don’t have time to worry about where your neighbor’s meal came from.

  18. While I feel there are many valid and important arguments made in this article, as the reader my attention shifted to the completely unnecessary, and only somewhat relevant, attacks made on specific groups of consumers. I would first like to say that I completely acknowledge the disparity in food access in our country, as well as the hypocrisy in which certain consumers address food issues-caring more about the way their food was processed than the worker’s rights, etc. I also think this is something that needs to be confronted-improving food quality needs to be a comprehensive approach that involves different socioeconomic groups, and different facets of the industry. However, what I don’t understand is why someone’s eating disorder should stop me from talking about my healthy lifestyle (please note that healthy eating and fad dieting are different.) Why should I not care about what is in my scone? I think the argument behind this article is well intentioned, but there are a lot of whole and unnecessary add-ons that do not strengthen the argument, but instead are just distracting.

    “I want the Religious Right out of my bedroom and the White Liberal Food Police out of my kitchen. Is that so much to ask?”

    Well, in response to that comment-yes, it is too much to ask. What you eat does not only affect you as an individual. Whether it is the chemicals produced in the way food is processed or the medical costs that result from caring for a nation sick with food related illnesses-diabetes, etc., everyone pays the price for everyone else’s unhealthy lifestyle choices.

    1. Why do you think everyone wants to hear about your healthy lifestyle?

      I don’t want to hear about your healthy lifestyle. I don’t know you. You’re not my doctor. You can’t tell just by looking at me what I need to eat. You don’t know why I eat whatever it is that I may happen to eat that you disapprove of, or why I don’t eat what you eat. I am not obliged to defend my choices to you. I don’t always have time to talk about my own healthy lifestyle choices and I never have time to waste explaining why I do stuff to people who have already decided I’m wrong just because I do not do as they do. It’s not your business what I eat, and I don’t actually care what you eat.

      I care if you’re having a problem finding enough to eat. I care if you can’t find the food that you want to eat where you live. I care if you can’t find the food you want to eat at a price you can afford.

      But I absolutely do not care why you want to eat what you want to eat, and I absolutely do not want to hear what you, a complete stranger, think I ought to be eating, or why you think I ought to eat that and not this, or why you even think it’s your business.

      Freedom of speech is the freedom to say what you like without government censorship. It’s not the freedom to say what you like without anyone thinking you’re a busybody, an asshole, or worse. It’s also not the freedom to make people listen to you, or the freedom to make people waste their time defending themselves to you if they happen not to agree with you, or the freedom to say what you like without taking into consideration that others may also say what they like in response.

    2. By the way–everyone pays the price for everyone’s choices, all the time.

      If I get diabetes, yes, you still have to pay for my healthcare (but I won’t, because I get tested for it rather a lot and funny thing, I don’t ever actually have it). Just like I still have to pay for your health care if you break a leg running your 5K or doing aerobics. Everyone risks their health doing something.

      We don’t get to tell each other what to do just because we have to take care of each other. We have to take care of each other because that is what conscientious, compassionate and civilised people DO. You sound like the 19th century doctors who didn’t want to treat syphilis because they thought it was a punishment from G-d. That is EXACTLY the attitude this article is meant to combat.

      If someone is PRODUCING food that kills or hurts people they are probably doing it for a profit and they need to be punished for harming people by telling them the food is safe when it isn’t. But if people choose to eat fugu or Oreo cookies, well, people also choose to smoke and drink and climb mountains and jump out of airplanes and enter dance marathons and play games where they might get a ball in the face. Being human involves taking risks. We help people even when the risks they have taken hurt them, because we recognise that we ALL take risks, every day, from crossing the street to eating potato chips to playing softball.

  19. several things. 1) its hard to call this an article because it doesn’t singularly address any specific point let alone maintain a cohesive narrative. At the highest level, the comparison of conversation surrounding the agricultural industry to religious dogma is problematic and immediately distracts/detracts. If the author simple intends to point out the zealotry that surrounds both issues..well ok. There is zealotry around a lot of issues, Hi Welcome to America, is it your first time? Here’s a pamphlet.

    2) The characterization of “white liberals” is a lazy blanket and in order to further a much more productive conversation, needs to be parsed. For example: the same demographics of people that follow “paleo diet” are not the same demographic of people who advocate for locally sustainable organic food. In fact, the vast majority of the local agg community, farmers, and all american hunter/gather people are politically conservative and usually religious. MORE IMPORTANTLY, the idea that “white liberals” created, maintain and further the idea (the fad!) of food sourced locally and grown without chemical fertilizer ignores the millions (literally) of people/communities of color for whom that is their current way of life; a tradition ingrained within culture, nation, economy and person. The author simply perpetuates the whitewashed framing of the idea of local “GMO FREE” food as a white liberal one, when it was/is simply a human one in many communities. Here is a good article on that:

    3) I’m not going to have the GMO vs non GMO discussion, although i will mention that genetic modification is actually not the same as selective breeding, so it actually hasn’t been going on for that long. They are in the same discussion and related, but not the same. And it certainly is not an extremist viewpoint to be dubious about scientific ‘innovation’. Science would tell you to be dubious about science innovation. Also GM food is not the most frequently debated of the food industry. There far worse things going on in processed food, fast food and perdue chicken than genetic modification. And those things are backed up by scientific study.

    4) Where the author almost…allllmoooosstt..(but nope) hits on something is what Michael addresses above, the problem of availability of food for disenfranchised peoples, communities etc. That’s a problem in under privileged communities in the usa, that’s a problem in other-world countries and nations globally. It’s understated and needs to be addressed. … in point.

    1. I don’t call this an article, actually––I call it a first-person rant on a forum that allows me to occasionally indulge in things like that. Hi, welcome to Skepchick! We have a pamphlet:

      The point here that I will entertain is #2. I agree! White liberals don’t have a monopoly on the concept of sustainable food sourcing anymore than they have a monopoly on yoga––they just act like they do. I’ve written on that, too.

      What I’m addressing here is an inconsistent principle and a particular arrangement of priorities––one that often gets hidden behind a shouting match about the principles themselves rather than how they’re applied. Case in point.

      1. You wrote, “Bring up reproductive rights and liberals shake their heads and remark on the incredible cognitive dissonance of the Religious Right. Sure, the Right is ‘small government’ in theory, but it’s about sex, liberals shrug. It’s about policing women’s bodies and an obsessive desire to control what happens in people’s bedrooms. It’s a complete fear and denial of scientific data in favor of emotionally overblown gut reaction.”

        I don’t disagree that that’s often the reaction, but that doesn’t change the fact that such reactions are wrong and born of ignorance. It bears no relation to what actually underlies the oppositions position and treats as truth a false caricature. From a religious historical perspective, initial opposition to abortion was merely an extension of the opposition of (at the time acceptable in the Roman empire) practice of infanticide. It had little to do with sex, as opposed to the religious opposition to homosexuality which had everything to do with sex, but was instead more akin to the motivation behind child welfare laws more than one and a half millennia later.

        In some ways, modern abortion opposition is quite like modern animal rights advocacy. Both can get mired in religious controversy and until fairly recently both were primarily outgrowths of views about the soul, but today the dominant arguments are secular and philosophical and merely seek to extend the community of ‘rights-holders’ by proposing a new standard for moral rights that rejects the enlightenment era view that Hobbesian personhood is required for inclusion in that community.

        Animal rights activists say the proper criterion is a capacity for suffering. Pro-life advocates point out that the rejection of infanticide is itself a rejection of the personhood criterion since infants don’t qualify any more than farm animals. (In fact, animal behaviorists have shown pigs to come closer to having personhood than do infants less than 18 months old.) The argument is that personhood is a sufficient rather than a necessary condition for possessing rights and that our treatment of infants indicates that it’s the quality of either possessing OR developing personhood which counts (with both normal infants and prenates developing into Hobbesian persons). Frankly, I’ve been a skeptic since I could tie my own shoes (although not a self-identifying atheist until 12), yet I’ve never accepted the argument that the abortion controversy could be distilled into a question about religious sexual mores.

        You wrote that your concerned with addressing “an inconsistent principle and a particular arrangement of priorities.” I’d argue that the typical liberal support for abortion rights is actually an example of just that. It’s at least one of two – and often both – emotional rejections of consistent principles.

        One is a “denial of scientific data in favor of emotionally overblown gut reaction” which ignores what personhood actually is and how it relates to the basic facts about early childhood development because one has such a strong emotional reaction to the biological differences between prenatal life and neonatal life (and therefore adopts a view about ethical status that’s analogous to the long discredited ‘recapitulation theory’).

        The other is the J.J. Thompson originated view that personhood and moral standing are irrelevant. Partly that’s based on a hypothesis about resisting and ‘undoing’ the assaults on one’s body, but that argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny because it’s inconsistent with the biological and social realities of reproduction – unless one’s limiting the argument to a right to abortion in instances of rape. In cases involving consensual sex, the bodily rights values are actually just as much a reason to support the prenate (arguably more so) as to support the gravida. The other more defensible half of the Thompson-esque view is essentially libertarian. It’s an argument that there’s a legally guaranteed fundamental freedom on the line that can’t be superceded even by concerns about life. Essentially that argument is made both by NARAL and the NRA, but liberals are inconsistent in their application of the principle since they don’t tend to support the latter.

        Whether endorsing a non fact based perspective to bodily rights defense or inconsistent views about prioritizing personal freedom over state sponsored attempts to protect others, both Thompson style rights arguments are really undergirded by a visceral emotional response that empathizes with a women who urgently wants not to be pregnant.

  20. This incoherent rant gets so much wrong I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll try anyway.

    First, to say that “GMOs” are a trendy diet doesn’t make sense. What the author meant to say, I think, is that the campaign to expose the dangers of GMOs specifically as items available for human consumption is a “trend.” However, if that’s the case, then that’s basically the same as saying the campaign to expose the dangers of smoking is a “trend.”

    Second, the author uses an episode of Portlandia as an example of how ridiculous the desire to know what’s in your food has become. The episode is hilarious, to be sure, but it’s also from 2011. Seems odd to attack something you’re so bent on exposing as a “trend” by citing something three years old. Furthermore, even if the growing desire to know where your food comes from, and by extension what exactly is in it, is trendy, that doesn’t make it flawed. If you don’t care that you’re eating a sick egg from a sick chicken that was fed a “feed” of soy and corn its whole life, then that’s your problem. Don’t bitch about it on the internet, just eat your damn sick egg and let others who care about what goes into their body eat their eggs from chickens that were fed worms and vegetables and bugs–things that chickens are supposed to eat.

    Third, the author conflates health food culture with food truck culture. Has anyone ever come across a “healthy” food truck? I haven’t. In fact, in addition to arguing that they are not the same, I would say that food truck culture, with its shameless deep frying of foods and endless reinterpretations of regional American cuisine (e.g. “southern”), is a huge middle finger to health culture. It’s as if to say, “F___ you, vegans and paleos! Just eat a damn short rib or a waffle and live a little.” In fact the very concept of a “food truck,” a mobile restaurant which prepares its food on the side of a street, is meant to have the allure of dirty yet super, super delicious street food.

    Fourth, the myopia of our white liberal author is betrayed in her total omission of what is actually the most unethical and exploitative aspect to American restaurants: the underpaid back of the house employees–often immigrants or ex-cons with very few employment options–who slave away and who go without much more than just health insurance. In fact, the white kids who wait the tables often work part-time, which is what disqualifies them from health insurance in the first place. Furthermore, the reason they work at restaurants part-time is often because they are also attending a university at the same time, which does give them coverage. So the issue of server-exploitation is a bit exaggerated, and comes at the expense of other ones..

    To be fair, the Noble Savage website is probably the lamest thing I’ve ever seen, and the general “primal” food culture, rapidly replacing the vegan/raw one, is certainly nauseating. But most of it is just marketing, and people who simply care about what goes into their body seem to have been unfairly and sloppily confused for the targets of that marketing.

  21. Late reply, I know, but I was wondering about your food truck comment. It seems most opposition comes from restauranteurs who fear competition, which is fallacious and just bullshit protectionism.

    1. Since I’ve seen this response regarding my so-called food truck hatred repeatedly, I do want to take the time to address it, mainly because I find it really surprising and baffling amid the reactions I assumed I’d get.

      Here’s what I say about food trucks in the piece:

      1) “If you are more concerned about the availability of food trucks in the neighboring town than whether its residents actually want them (thanks to my dear friend Tina for setting me straight on this one) … your approach is imperialist.”

      2) “Witness the euphoria surrounding the dawn of food trucks.”

      I included food trucks because they are very, very important to white people, particularly hipsters; see [] and [ ] and, in my opinion, an example of how important one’s source of food (and the instagramming of such) has become to this particular group. They also involve a fair amount of cultural appropriation, and I’ve observed the attitude that food trucks indicate that a neighborhood has gentrified––hence my “imperialism” comment.

      As for me? I eat at food trucks frequently, though, as with all business I support, I seek out those that exemplify business practices I value. I also spent hours in court once waiting to testify on behalf of food trucks at a city council meeting in a suburb of my hometown.

      I find it amusing that the idea that I hate food trucks––like the idea that I hate food or don’t care about food (I’m a food writer with three different kinds of pasta in my cupboard at present)––has somehow emerged in responses to this piece. Then again, foodies are prone to taking food conversation personally and becoming defensive, which is what this piece is about.

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