Monday, November 29, 2010

The new front in the culture wars: food

If you shelled out $10 a pound for a "heritage turkey" this Thanksgiving, tea-brined it and stuffed it with rosemary bread (that you made), speck (from the local charcuterie guy), fennel (from the farmers market) and lemon (okay, there are limits to this), you might assume that everyone, if given the opportunity, would support such a makeover of a meal that not long ago was dominated by frozen Butterballs and jellied cranberry sauce.

In fact, not everyone would. And that is an important thing to understand about the effort to remake America's food culture. Advocates of fresh, local and sustainably raised food say it is healthier, better-tasting and morally sound. If everyone could afford that heritage turkey and had a local charcuterie guy, the argument goes, then all Thanksgiving meals would be elevated to ethereal heights.

But many in this country who have access to good food and can afford it simply don't think it's important. To them, food has become a front in America's culture wars, and the crusade against fast and processed food is an obsession of "elites," not "real Americans."

Consider these shots from leading conservative voices in just the past month:
Rush Limbaugh, responding to the report of a Kansas State nutrition professor who says he lost 27 pounds eating mainly Twinkies, said: "I know liberals lie, and if Michelle Obama's gonna be out there ripping into 'food deserts' and saying, 'This is why people are fat,' I know it's not true."
Sarah Palin took cookies to a Pennsylvania school to register her disapproval of policies that forbid sweets.
Glenn Beck suggested that food-safety legislation was a government plot to raise the prices for beef and chicken and thereby turn us all into vegetarians.

Both sides in this gustatory dust-up understand just how dangerous it is to tell people how to eat. The right's cultural warriors see an opportunity to turn the complicated issue of food into a class-war weapon - and to make nice with the fast-food industry, which has donated generously to the GOP. They are banking on the fact that over the past 60 years, the American way of eating has moved from small farms and home-cooked meals to industrial production and drive-throughs.
The Golden Arches long ago replaced Mom's apple pie as a symbol of the all-American meal. Thus, "Don't let them take away your Big Mac!" becomes a rallying cry.

This transformation has been sold to us as progress, though not without consequences: Obesity-related diseases cost $150 billion annually.

Proponents of a more progressive food system - liberals mostly - have sought to avoid a paternalistic tone, too. They have focused on systemic failures that prevent families from making healthier choices. Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, which aims to end childhood obesity within a generation, addresses access (Is fresh food available?) and affordability (Can poor and working-class families afford to buy it?).

When reformers talk about personal decisions, they are mostly urging people of means to "vote with their forks" by consuming from places such as farmers markets and Whole Foods.

Access and affordability are indeed problems. But the sense on the right that this is fundamentally a culture issue is also correct, even if its message is wrongheaded.

We moved this month to Huntington, W.Va. - the town where celebrity chef Jamie Oliver set a reality TV show about healthy eating this year - to research a book about efforts to change the way the city eats. Like most U.S. communities, Huntington is dominated by fast and processed food. Still, finding affordable, fresh and even local food there has not been as hard as we expected.
We have found plenty of organic produce at the supermarket. We've bought local eggs, buffalo meat and un-homogenized milk in glass bottles.

So far, we've prepared nearly all our meals at home and are averaging about $100 a week on groceries. That breaks down to $2.38 per meal, per person, though it doesn't include the gas and time it took to run down leads on food sources.

In other words, access to and the cost of "elite" food isn't beyond the budgets of many, perhaps most, Americans. Our meals cost less than the "Shrimpzilla" deal at the fast-food joint Captain D's - $4.99 for 30 fried shrimp and two sides - or the $2.59 McDonald's McRib (plus tax).

Those who would reform the U.S. food system need to address the question of values that Limbaugh, Palin and others criticize as elitist. They need to consider the role that socioeconomics plays in determining those values and how to begin to change them.
They have to make the case for why eating well matters at the local level, and that case will vary by community. In the Huntington area, residents spend $1.25 billion annually on food, but little of it stays in the region. Local food as economic development is a more persuasive argument in places where good jobs are scarce than is the do-the-right-thing mantra that echoes from both coasts. Good food is also at least part of the solution to the region's health crisis: high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

For the good-food revolution to have a chance, people have to make finding and preparing fresh food a priority at a time when everything about our modern food system urges us not to bother. And that won't happen if people think healthy food is an elitist plot to take away their McRib.

WASHINGTON POST by Brent Cunningham Jane Black

The 9 Most Shocking WikiLeaks Secrets

The whistleblower’s latest document dump exposes Saudi Arabia’s plot against Iran, a corrupt Afghan’s $52 million payday, Putin and Berlusconi’s “bromance,” and more. See nine of the most startling details.

1. Yemen Takes the Fall for U.S. Drones

Leaked documents reveal that Yemen has been covering up for the U.S in the fight against al Qaeda by saying publicly that attacks initiated by the State Department were directed by Yemen. “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told General David Petraeus in January 2010. The coverup, made necessary by severe distrust of the U.S. in the Middle East, prompted Yemen’s prime minister to joke about how the president had “lied” to his parliament about the strikes.

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton wanted diplomats to snoop out credit card numbers, schedules, email addresses, cell phone numbers—even DNA—of the members of the U.N. Security Council, according to the documents. (Susan Walsh / AP Photo) 2. China Hacked Google—and the Dalai Lama

The Chinese government was behind the much-publicized cyberattack on Google’s computer network this year, according to “a Chinese contact” who told the U.S. Embassy in Beijing about “a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives.” U.S. officials have previously declined to finger the Chinese government publicly for the attacks, but the WikiLeaks cable makes clear that Beijing directed hacks into not only Google, but also U.S. and Western allies’ computers, the Gmail accounts of Chinese dissidents, and even the Dalai Lama’s computer.

3. Hillary Commissioned U.N. Spies

Clinton wanted diplomats to snoop out credit-card numbers, frequent-flier details, schedules, email addresses, cellphone numbers, and even DNA of the members of the U.N. Security Council, according to the documents. That includes U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, about whom the secretary of state requested information on “management and decision-making style and his influence on the secretariat.” The requests, which were made in July 2009 and follow similar orders from Clinton’s predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, will no doubt cause embarrassment and could even be illegal: A 1946 U.N. treaty bans “search, requisition... and any other form of interference” of United Nations property.

4. “Feckless” Berlusconi Has “Shadowy” Ties to Putin

The cables are not very kind to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is deemed “feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader” by Elizabeth Dibble, the U.S. envoy to Rome. Another leaked document details Berlusconi’s already known “frequent late nights and penchant for partying hard.” The reports also question the intimate relationship between Berlusconi and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who reportedly use a “shadowy” bilingual go-between and lavish each other with expensive gifts. Secretary Clinton asked her envoys in the two nations to report on any business dealings between the two, in addition to their chummy bromance.

5. Saudi King Wants a U.S. Military Strike on Iran

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah repeatedly pushed the U.S. to attack Iran, according to the U.S. ambassador there. “Cut off the head of the snake,” the king said in 2008, requesting a military strike against Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program. The Saudi government also called for “severe U.S. and international sanctions on Iran.” Israel also urged action, labeling 2010 a critical year. A June 2009 message describes Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak outlining a “window between 6 and 18 months from now in which stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons might still be viable.” After that, said Barak, “any military solution would result in unacceptable collateral damage” Other cables show that the U.S. believes Iran has received advanced missiles from North Korea capable of striking Moscow and Europe.

6. Corrupt Afghan V.P. Caught With $52 Million in Cash

This must have weighed down his luggage: Officials working with the Drug Enforcement Agency in the United Arab Emirates last year discovered that Afghanistan’s visiting vice president, Ahmed Zia Massoud, had $52 million on him—in cash. Calling the bonanza a “significant amount,” the U.S. Embassy let him keep it “without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” Massoud denies funneling any cash out of Afghanistan.

7. U.S. Offers Payouts in Exchange for Guantanamo Detainees

U.S. authorities were so anxious to resettle Guantanamo prisoners abroad that they were ready to strike any deal with a foreign country willing to take them. Officials offered Kiribati, a tiny island nation in the Pacific—population 98,000—millions of dollars in incentives to shelter Chinese Muslim detainees. They also bribed Slovenian officials to take an inmate in exchange for the chance to meet President Obama. Belgium, meanwhile, was told that taking Guantanamo prisoners would be a “low-cost way…to attain prominence in Europe.”

• Peter Beinart: The WikiLeaks Drama Is Overblown

• Tunku Varadarajan: The Fallout from WikiLeaks8. U.S., S. Korea Are Planning to Reunite the Two Koreas

As tensions on the peninsula escalate, American and South Korean officials have already discussed plans to unite the two Koreas should the North ultimately collapse. They’ve also considered inducing China to go along with reunification, with the South Korean ambassador telling the State Department in February 2010 that economic incentives would “help salve” China should a united Korea end up in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

9. State Department Gives Low Marks to Germany’s Merkel

The German magazine Der Spiegel, which was among the publications allowed to preview the leaks, immediately zeroed in on the State Department’s cool perception of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German leader “has not taken bold steps yet to improve the substantive content of the relationship,” wrote former U.S. Ambassador William Timken in 2006. Merkel was also called “risk averse and rarely creative” in a 2008 message. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, meanwhile, was deemed “short on substance.”

Bush v. Gore, 10 Years Later (AND STILL WRONG! The Court Stole the PRESIDENCY for GWB!)

Bush v. Gore, 10 Years Later

Usually, momentous Supreme Court cases are cited often in the years after their decision.

But compared to Brown v. Board of Education, cited over 25 times in the 10 years after 1954, or Roe v. Wade, cited over 65, Bush v. Gore has been cited exactly zero times in the last 10 years.

However, writes Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker, the case set a more general and pernicious precedent: the casting aside of judicial restraint and deference to states' rights in favor of partisan politics. Despite decrying judicial activism, conservative justices, led by one of Bush's lawyers in the Florida recount debacle, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., have been eager to overturn the work of legislatures when it comes to guns, campaign finance, and environmental protection.

This activism, Toobin writes, "is the tragedy of Bush v. Gore. The case didn't just scar the Court's record; it damaged the Court's honor."

The New Yorker