Saturday, August 16, 2008

[book] Fast Food Nation


I liked this book, which gives a nice behind-the-scenes overview of the conditions under which we get much of our food. It's not nearly as important a read as anything by Michael Pollan, but if you know how to read past the obvious errors in his anti-market biases, you'll learn something. I'm much more skeptical now of the food I eat after reading what really happens in those feedlots where my non-organic meals are grown.

But the best, certainly the wisest, words in this entire book are in the last two paragraphs:

Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first step toward meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit.

I wish the author, Eric Schlosser, had noticed that the same thing does not apply to any of the government fixes he proposes. Once the USDA or FDA create a rule, you are forced to go along, whether it makes sense or not, and there are no competitors out there threatening the enforcing bureaucrats with unemployment if they fail.

Who do you trust more: Whole Foods or the government? Personally I have far greater faith in anything sold under the Whole Foods brand name than anything that says "USDA approved". And you won't change my mind even if you add the zillions of expensive inspectors that Schlosser would like to see. When Whole Foods screws up and sells something unhealthy, they know I'll go elsewhere and never give them another chance--so they have far, far more incentives to maintain quality than the government does.

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