Equal Time for Broccoli

by Stan Kahn

Deriders of political correctness are having a bang-up time, what with New Zealand's cow fart tax to combat global warming and rotund chunkers suing burger joints for corrupting their natural curvatures.

Taxing bovine flatulence... ha, ha, ha, how nutso can you get? What are they supposed to do, hold it in? Must admit this one caught my natural environmental attitude off kilter – it's so absurd on the surface – but only temporarily. In fact, the methane that beef cattle produce is but a small part of the burden they place on the world's ecosystem. In terms of both land and water, the raising of beef requires ten or twenty times more resources than growing grains used directly as food. Moreover, beef demands far more resources than other meats.

So who then is to pay for this fart-based drain on the planet's resources? Indirectly, it's the peoples who have the least since they have minimal capacity to compensate for the damage of global warming. They won't necessarily experience worse climactic upheavals than the developed world, but rather they simply have limited resources to rebuild and recreate.

Once again we have an example of how so many of the costs of modern life, advanced industrial society and ultimately, industrial strength eating are being externalized. In other words, the people who eat beef – and I'm one of them, though I make a conscious effort to minimize my intake – are not paying the full cost of their actions. The massive amounts of synthetic hormones fed to beef to get them to grow faster, the antibiotics used to keep domestic animals alive in otherwise unhealthy conditions, the herbicides and pesticides and chemical fertilizers used to grow their food since industry doesn't want to give them – pay the cost of – the pasture and living conditions they need to eat properly; all those factors result in diseases and pollution and a general degradation of the earth that all of us pay for, some – those individuals who personally contract serious maladies – more than others.

If industrial farmers had to pay the true costs of their operations, their products might equal or even cost more than organically, naturally grown food. (By the way, though it's a bit off topic, the greatest, most serious impact of the coming depletion of fossil fuels will not be on transportation, heating and air conditioning or industry, but on food production since nearly all of our food supply depends on liberal doses of fossil fuel based chemicals and fertilizers....)

Well, then, back to the point, how is it that people, in all seriousness, can blame burger joints for making them fat? Is it not possible for Americans to take any responsibility at all for their actions? Nobody forced them to pig out. Those burgers and fries didn't just happen to get stuffed into their gullets, it took conscious action. Well, yes, but...

What it comes down to is education. Right from the beginning we teach our children that burgers and fries and sugary soft drinks and a lot of other low quality highly fattening foods will give them joy and happiness and fulfillment. You scoff. Well, what percentage of American children don't spend hours every day in front of the TV being barraged every few minutes by junk food advertising? If that's not education, what do you call it? Why is it people originally drank coke in 7 ounce bottles but now feel the need to glug frightening amounts of it. But, they're responsible for how much coke they drink, aren't they?

Of course, but how about society? Does society take no responsibility for the teaching of healthy lifestyles? Sixty percent of the American people didn't turn fat by accident, it took a conscious action on the part of those individuals and an equally real-life, if mostly unwitting, decision on the part of society to encourage citizens to indulge. You can have it all, just sign on the dotted line.

Some would try to divorce their mundane environment from their willpower and thought-processes, but, ultimately, you are what you eat. I don't care how smart or independent-minded you think you are it is not possible to be unaffected, unmoved after subjecting oneself to shameful numbers of hours being shouted at to be a good consumer, egged on to do your part.

Needless to say, there's a lot more to today's weighty problems than advertising (frustration, stress and alienation for a start). Still, much of it can be attributed to a lifestyle, promoted by the corporate culture, which reflects the desire for profit and growth, any form of growth, over all other considerations. As long as our measure of economic health – GNP – rewards, shows as positive, the money spent treating diseases or maladies caused by obesity and tainted food, we will not escape our slippery downhill slide.

And while I mostly use 'we' to refer to Americans – because I still hold an American passport, since there is no world citizen passport, and most people on this email list are Americans – in fact, this explosion of expanding waistlines is spreading worldwide. I've lately marveled at the change in Thailand, which is doing its best to mimic the West. And while Europeans as a rule are in far better shape than North Americans, they're also fast on the road to large- scale problems.

Until the mid-eighties, when it was axed by the FCC, the fairness doctrine ruled the airwaves. If a commercial broadcaster gave time to one candidate or political viewpoint it had to offer equal time to the other. So why not equal time for broccoli? For healthy eating habits? Wouldn't that make a difference? Until that happens I say hit those fast-food hucksters below the belt. Sue the underwear off them. Who cares if tons-of-funs are ultimately responsible. Industry wants the bucks, let them also cover the debits.

The solution has to begin with the curtailment of advertising. This can be done through direct taxation or eliminating its business deduction – with the exception of a reasonable amount for a small business. But that would ruin our economy, you say, everything would slow down. Well, duh, that's the point. We can no more grow our economy ad infinitum than we can grow our bodies without limits.

But people need to work, what happens when reduced advertising also reduces employment? Well, we could share as France is doing with a 35 hour work week. Or take long vacations – all Europeans are entitled to at least 4 weeks per year – to spread the work. But we'll have less money to support our (profligate) lifestyle? True... and less inclination or ability to spend on useless, or unnecessary or superfluous consumption, not to mention pure crap. And cause less stress on the earth's ecosystem.

Dream on..... Ok.