June 30, 2010

The libertarian diet

Like the epithet "public servant," the word "diet" carries many unsavory connotations, and ranks as one of my least favorite terms. We are all familiar with calorie-restricted "weight-loss diets," which, particularly when paired with frequent aerobic exercise, are akin to the hazardous financial practice of increasing spending while decreasing income. But I will nevertheless employ the term "diet" here, assumed only to imply the somewhat less pernicious concept of a framework for deciding what to eat and what not to eat, irrespective of quantity. And though the cannibals in government may find such a resistance-swallowing regimen highly palatable, the "libertarian diet" here proposed does not entail the poaching, pan-searing, or slow cooking and subsequent eating of defenders of rights to life, liberty, and property. A gastronomy of autonomy this may be, but we are seeking to conserve autonomy, not consume it. The libertarian diet is a diet for libertarians, not of libertarians. Its basic premise is simple:

Libertarians, as much as possible, should avoid eating food that is produced or sold by anti-libertarian means.

That is all. No calorie counting. No macronutrient restriction. No industry-sponsored government food pyramids. Do the above, and besides reducing your support of statism and extending the application of your ideals a little further, you'll be rewarded with better health.

Okay, but what exactly do you eat when avoiding "food that is produced or sold by anti-libertarian means"? And what food could possibly be anti-libertarian? Isn't the abundance of cheap food at the supermarket a testament to the incredible life-sustaining efficiency of the free market? Isn't this cheap abundance also a telltale sign of our food system's relative independence from government interference, in contrast, for instance, to the government-managed and therefore bungling education and medical systems?

In fact, the tentacle-prints of government intervention are slathered all over the industrial food system just as anywhere else, and are a major reason why a twenty-four pack of cherry soda is cheaper than a handful of actual cherries, why chemical additives are not only ubiquitous but considered safe while natural unpasteurized dairy products come with government warning labels if they're even permitted to be sold at all, and why processed grain-based concoctions full of diabetes-, heart disease-, and cancer-promoting refined sugars and vegetable oils are promoted as healthy (and bear stamps of approval from organizations named after and promising to "cure" each of those diseases) while the truly healthy, time-tested, life-giving staple foods of humankind for at least the last 10,000 years prior to the degenerative disease-plagued last century--meat, eggs, and full-fat milk from wild or pasture-raised animals--are smeared as "fattening," "artery-clogging," and even "cancer-causing" agents of disease that are best indulged in only sparingly or avoided altogether. All the while, Americans have gotten duller, fatter, and sicker (and therefore--whether or not by design--easier to control) than ever.

So, what should libertarians eat? What are the anti-libertarian foods to avoid and the market-friendly foods to eat in their place?

As much as possible…

…don't eat food from manufacturers who violate property rights by polluting their neighbors' land, air, and water through run-off contaminated from the use of chemical fertilizers and sprays originally developed for military applications.* Instead, eat organically grown (but not necessarily "Certified Organic") produce and naturally raised animal products.

…don't eat food from manufacturers who lobby and bribe the state for regulations (such as the proposed "Food Safety" bills and National Animal Identification System, as well as raw milk bans and myriad other existing legal obstacles) which diminish consumer choice and privilege large industrial farming and food processing operations by disproportionately inhibiting, and consequently forcing out of business, smaller competitors. Instead, eat food from small family farms and artisanal producers who compete honestly by offering a better product.

…don't eat food from manufacturers who profit from government-granted monopolies in the form of patent rights over genes artificially spliced into crops. Instead, eat food that has not been genetically modified in a laboratory.

…don't eat food from manufacturers who receive corporate welfare in the form of enormous federal subsidies for wheat, corn, and soybean (over-) production, insulating them from competition and distorting world markets by enabling them to sell their products for less than the cost of production and below true market prices.** In other words, avoid artificially cheap processed foods and fast food containing subsidized wheat, corn, and soy--including meat and dairy products from animals fed subsidized wheat, corn, and soy--as well as restaurant foods cooked in corn and soy oils. Instead, eat homemade meals prepared from whole foods--including meat and dairy products from animals fed their natural diet--and use traditional cooking fats like butter, tallow, lard, and coconut oil.

And there you have it. Support natural rights by eating natural foods from small farms. In so doing, you'll reduce your support of property rights violations, anti-consumer and anti-competitive government regulations (not to imply that government regulations are ever otherwise), state-enforced intellectual monopoly, and corporate subsidies, all while better supporting your own health. For more on the health benefits of whole, natural foods, including fat- and cholesterol-rich animal products, explore the sites listed under the Nutrition Links section to the right. Future posts on this blog will also address this subject in more detail, including how state intervention in agriculture tends to depreciate the nutritional value of food and distort truths about nutrition.

* On the property rights-based case for environmental stewardship, see Murray Rothbard's "Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution" or the wikipedia entry on free market environmentalism. On the militaristic underpinnings of industrial agriculture, see "Modern Agriculture: A Byproduct of Military History?" (without assuming any endorsement on my part of Hare Krishna, with which I have little familiarity outside the views expressed in this article).

** See these excellent videos on farm subsidies produced by Reason.tv and the Cato Institute.


Toban said...

While I do buy my animal foods from local farmers, I only do so because they're the cheapest source of clean meats. It's really hard to find grass-fed meat, never mind lard, in the grocery store (and it's always crazy expensive).

In a free society, grass-fed producers would be able to take advantage of economies of scale. There's no reason good food can't come from large-scale, non-local operations. It would bring costs down and make healthy eating more affordable.

Wouldn't it be great to buy low-priced grass-fed & organic meat from a big operation on the other side of the globe? Global division of labor ftw!

Mike Jones said...

Good points, Toban.

My argument for buying from small family farms (which may generally--but not necessarily always--mean local) rests on the assumption that such farms are not affiliated with industry lobby groups pushing for the very regulations which would potentiate small farmers' extinction. In this sense, supporting family farms supports, or at least avoids subverting, libertarian values. On the other hand, if I buy milk or meat from Safeway, I am more than likely putting money in the hands of a few food giants who will in turn contribute it to political causes devoted to the regulatory destruction of small farms. Not too cool if you can afford to avoid it.

Cheaper, cleaner meat would be great. I think we'd have more of it if agricultural subsidies, among other current practices, didn't encourage stuffing animals into crowded pens where they can be fed artificially cheap, taxpayer-subsidized grains. In the meantime, I eat mostly organ meats these days anyway, which means small, local, clean and cheap.

Concerning "low-priced grass-fed & organic meat from a big operation on the other side of the globe," I do buy grassfed New Zealand lamb from my neighborhood Trader Joe's for much less than I can get it at the farmer's market. That said, there are benefits to buying locally which may justify paying a higher price, such as superior freshness (and therefore less vitamin and phytonutrient degradation), and the ability to visit the farm and judge the quality of the soil and farming practices. I also just happen to dig that the people I get most of my meat from know me by name. But the more choices the better, of course, and everyone can decide for themselves what they're willing to pay for.

You are right in saying "There's no reason good food can't come from large-scale, non-local operations," but do you think large-scale operations would be that pervasive in a true free market? I'm not certain either way, but do wonder how much of existing big companys' "bigness" is dependent on government intervention (including IP, road socialism, corporate personhood, all of it) and whether the same massive scale could commonly be attained and maintained absent said intervention.

D. Saul Weiner said...

Excellent post and great idea for a blog in general. I am excited to see this, as I come from a similar mindset and have been trying to promote the same.

Mike Jones said...

Thank you, D. Saul!