Americans are in the midst of a health crisis. With rising obesity rates, millions of people suffer from cardiovascular disease, and a host of our other problems due to poor diet, lack of exercise, and overuse of antibiotic drugs. You see it all over the news, and maybe you have friends, family, or even you may deal with different chronic health conditions.
The average American consumes more than the recommended amount of sodium, saturated fat, refined grains, and calories. Right now, human health is an issue, yet why do governments heavily subsidize foods in the meat and dairy industry? Over the last several decades, the government has used propaganda and food subsidies to push certain products, but at what cost?
Here’s what we discuss in this article:
- Why does the government subsidize food?
- Government food subsidies damaging health
- Meat and dairy propaganda
- Is There a Solution to America’s Health Care Crisis?
Why Does the Government Subsidize Food?
Every year, the federal government subsidizes a huge range of economic activities, including oil, housing, ethanol, and food. The majority of subsidies are loans or cash grants.
When it comes to farming, the idea is that the subsidy protects farmers from price fluctuations or dips in revenues and yields. But, in reality, is the agricultural business any riskier than any other business? So, why does the government subsidize food? And maybe an ever greater question is why does the government subsidize certain foods over others?
Price plays a major role in purchasing decisions. If you’re faced with two products that are similar, but one’s a little cheaper, you’re more likely to buy it. Government subsidies keep the price of certain products down and more affordable.
When you look at which industries benefit the most from government subsidies, a massive 64% goes to the meat and dairy industry. While a fraction of that money goes toward vegetables and fruits. Why is there such a disparity?
Unfortunately, the standard Western diet contains a lot of animal products, processed foods, and meat. The meat and dairy industry is gigantic and very profitable, the dairy industry alone is expected to reach $703.5 billion by 2024. Government food subsidies make foods like red meat and processed meats much more affordable. Without these subsidies, they would be much more expensive. So, the true cost of meat is actually really hidden from consumers, and we might not eat so much meat on a daily basis if the cost rose dramatically. That’s why it can seem more tempting to buy more meat, dairy, and processed foods rather than fresh fruits and vegetables. This becomes especially true if you’re dealing with a super tight budget.
Government Food Subsidies Damaging Health
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, government subsidies including meat and dairy, are damaging the health of Americans. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University found that a significant chunk of agricultural government subsidies focus on financing foods that convert into high-fat meat and dairy products.
During the study, researchers followed 10,308 American participants. They measured the number of calories consumed from subsidized foods. The results showed that those who consumed the most subsidized foods including high-fat meat and dairy products were 41% and 21% more likely to be overweight and have elevated blood sugar levels, respectively.
Research shows that eating more saturated fat, found in dairy and meat, is associated with an increased risk of death and a host of other health problems. The study from Harvard suggested that by replacing just 5% of your saturated fat calories with polyunsaturated fats, you could lower the risk of death by 27%.
Children’s health is also taking a toll. Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States, with about 13.7 million children and adolescents being overweight or obese. But this isn’t only just the US. The UK and Canada have also seen a rise in obesity.
When looking at school lunch subsidies in 2013, a report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that the U.S Department of Agriculture paid more than $500 million to meat and dairy producers for things like beef, lamb, eggs, and pork that ended up in school lunches.
Meat and Dairy Propaganda
Since the dawn of TV advertisements, magazines, and marketing, powerful people have used clever psychology to convince consumers that their commodity is a must-buy. From a young age, you’ve been told to drink milk and the “Got Milk?” phrase is probably cemented in your brain. Maybe you remember different celebrities that starred in these commercials.
You’ve heard from an early age that you need dairy to be strong and have healthy bones. I remember growing up, I personally thought that milk was the only source of calcium. My school system would actually push drinking milk daily and eating other dairy products such as yogurt and cheese.
The iconic campaign was produced as a creative strategy to boost milk sales. The marketing campaign went from an advert to part of pop culture. It’s no wonder that the American consumer feels like they have a connection with milk after 70 commercials in California alone and some 350 mustache adverts.
Milk is just one product that’s been heavily integrated with Western culture. Edward Bernays is often referred to as the father of public relations and there’s a good reason for it. The Australian-American author was a pioneer in the field of propaganda and public relations. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He used psychology and persuasion techniques in a way that hadn’t been done before. This resulted in very influential and powerful advertising and political campaigns.
Bernays used his methods of persuasion to influence the American public that housewives should buy an instant cake mix, that eggs and bacon are part of a true American breakfast, and that women should start smoking.
Many of Bernays’s marketing campaigns have formed the backbone of modern marketing. When trying to improve sales of a Betty Crocker instant cake mix he conducted psychoanalytic research on a focus group, American housewives.
The problem was that they felt guilty that so little effort was required to produce the cake. The solution was to give them a larger sense of participation. The housewives were required to add an egg to the mixture symbolized by the iconic egg symbol. Sales soared and the extra step of adding an egg removed the guilt of not doing enough.
Bernays wrote countless books before dying in 1995. Back in 1923, he wrote the classic Crystallizing Public Opinion which set the principles that corporations and governments have used to influence public opinion over the past century. Bernays explores the psychology behind manipulating the masses.
Is There a Solution to America’s Health Care Crisis?
About half of all American adults, 117 million individuals, have one or more preventable chronic diseases. Many of these conditions are linked to poor diet and physical inactivity like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Government subsidies and clever marketing propaganda has a lot of power when it comes to consumers thinking and purchasing decisions.
Although these subsidies are not solely responsible for the current health care crisis, they support industries that favor mass production and mass consumerism. But, where are the subsidies that support disease fighting-vegetables and fruit?
The majority of Americans don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables. Think about it, do you personally eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables? The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans eat more fruit and veg to reduce their risk of diet-related chronic diseases like obesity and some cancers. However, currently, only a fraction of government subsidies are aimed at making fruit and vegetables available regardless of anyone’s economic background.
America is currently in a health pandemic, yet the appetite for meat is at an all-time high with overall meat consumption at 222 pounds per person every year. That’s the equivalent of more than 800 quarter-pound burgers per person, or 2.4 burgers a day. By subsidizing the production of meat alternatives, supporting smaller farms and modifying the current government subsidy structure, individuals can take back control of their health and heal the health care system.
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