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Author: Food subsidies harmful to nation's health

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse | 11/9/2010, 8:42 p.m.

It is no coincidence, he explained, that when Americans’ consumption of high fructose corn syrup jumped from 0 to 200 calories per day between the 1970s and 1990s, they also gained 20 percent of their body weight.

“Decreasing our consumption of soda is efficient, smart, preventive medicine,” he said.

 But Bittman was sure to stress that changing America’s eating habits can not come from individual decision-making alone — significant policy changes must accompany good personal choices too.

He suggested an array of social and political changes that could help turn the country’s diet around — eliminating existing subsidies and subsidizing good food, removing vending machines from schools, better food labels, more honest food marketing, incenticizing good eating, and, most creatively, a “Citizen Cooking Corps” that would train families how to cook healthy meals.

Americans can even take a lesson from its fight against tobacco several decades ago, he also explained, by stigmatizing and taxing soda and other junk foods.

After all, he said, the food industry “acts like the tobacco industry, which hires experts to back up specious claims. It maintains its marketing to children, it endorses bad science, it fronts front groups, it lobbies like mad, it claims that its products are safer and better” in the name of profit.

And this is precisely what Bittman sees the emerging food movement as striking against. “When we talk about the food movement,” he said, “we’re generally talking about people who value a system in which consumers and workers and land and even animals come before corporate profits.”

Mark Bittman’s latest book is called “Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.” His lecture was part of the Museum of Science’s on-going series, “Let’s Talk About Food.”