Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How Food Subsidies Make Us Ill

When I gave up grains for Lent, I began to feel much better. I no longer felt bloated, my late-night acid reflux went away, my morning nausea went away. Naturally, come Easter, I ate a pizza. All of those symptoms returned. With a vengeance.

I suspected I was allergic to wheat. It turns out I was right. More specifically, I am allergic to gluten. I have all the symptoms of standard gluten allergy. For someone who loves pasta, this is about as bad as news can get.

It turns out that at least 6% of the population is allergic to wheat. Perhaps more, since I was never diagnosed. It turns out that wheat causes all sorts of digestive problems in laboratory rats, and it may be that practically everyone is negatively affected by wheat. If you have digestive problems, I recommend giving up wheat for a while to find out if that's the problem.

My natural tendency is to think about any social implications of things like this. Like the fact that the U.S. government subsidizing corn-based ethanol drove up corn prices, causing Mexicans to switch from corn to wheat tortillas, causing increased obesity in Mexico.

Corn subsidies have also driven the use of high fructose corn syrup, which is 55% fructose (vs. 50-50 for regular sucrose, or table sugar). High amounts of sugar is bad enough for us (and tends to cover the taste of food rather than emphasize it), but fructose does not trigger the "full" response of your stomach. Thus, you are more likely to ingest more calories for anything with high fructose corn syrup than products with regular sugar.

Sugar subsidies also drive down the price of sugar, making it more readily available for addition to foods to make them more calorie-rich. The result is more type-2 diabetes, which I am sure is under-reported, and thus poorer health.

The pattern of agricultural subsidies in the U.S. creates overly sweet, low-nutrition, weak-tasting food. Europe too subsidizes agriculture, but their patterns of subsidies is different. The French are more likely to subsidize champagne grape farmers in order to maintain the French reputation for producing champagne than to subsidize mega-agribusiness -- though they are equally guilty of this. Subsidies more often than not create bad food that create poor health.

But don't worry about that, the same government that created the bad food that contributed to your bad health are trying to provide your health care now.
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