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The Dietary Guilt Trip


It is a technique that parents have used since Adam and Eve started raising Cane and Abel: the guilt trip.  Remember when you refused to eat something on your plate and your mother would turn to you and say, “I am really disappointed because I went to a lot of trouble to fix that special just for you.”  That line would make you feel like a real schmuck, and so you would try and choke  down a few bites of the offending food just to please your mother and alleviate some of the guilt you were feeling.  This dietary guilt trip is currently being used by the USDA and other groups who want to control what you eat.


Recently the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, an arm of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a preliminary report that , “A dietary pattern that is higher in plant(s) … and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact.”  The panel said that Americans should eat less meat and dairy because production is hurting the planet. These recommendations will be considered as the USDA gets ready to publish new guidelines on what Americans should eat.  For the first time, the committee took into consideration sustainability and environmental impact when making their recommendations.


The dietary guidelines do not have the force of law, but they will determine the kind of food that is served in school lunches and in the military. So these recommendations are a serious issue. Congress has been quite vocal about the inclusion of non-nutrition factors in the recommendations, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been quick to distance himself from this concept. “I read the actual law,” he told the Wall Street Journal. “Our job ultimately is to formulate dietary and nutrition guidelines. And I emphasize dietary and nutrition because that’s what the law says.”


But the concept of judging food on environmental and social factors is popular with a number of groups.  For example, Food Tank, an organization that promotes alternative agricultural practices, suggests we judge food based on all kinds of social and environmental traits. Food Tank suggests we evaluate meat protein this way: “Imagine if the price you paid for a hamburger included factors such as heart disease, the number one cause of death worldwide; or the runoff of manure spread on fields from concentrated animal feeding operations; or injuries to workers in slaughterhouses and processing plants; or the poor animal welfare practices in livestock operations.” This is the kind of nonsense being spread in all seriousness by these groups and is just another way to make us feel guilty about the food we eat.


A group called True Cost Accounting assigns value to the social, environmental, and health impacts of producing food, “Taking these costs into account is essential; the economic cost of global environmental degradation from industry is estimated at US$2 to US$5 trillion per year.”  Well, it does not take a rocket scientist to see where this line of thinking is going. “TCA has the potential to make industrial food production seem unreasonably harmful and expensive and make sustainable food production seem not only necessary, but affordable,” according Food Tank’s website.


In the United States, we have the most abundant, affordable, safest, and nutritious food supply in the world which is produced in the most efficient, sustainable, and environmentally conscious method possible. Yet, we are supposed to feel guilty about this.  We are supposed to put away our steak knives and live on nuts, veggies, and whole grains. Yup, it’s mom’s guilt trip all over again. While this may have been a good way to get us to eat what was on our plates, it is not a good basis for food or nutrition policy.


By Gary Truitt


Indiana Farm Expo