I can’t say that Saturday’s New York Times article detailing the USDA’s conflicting efforts to counter the nation’s rising obesity trend while simultaneously promoting sales of high-fat cheese products through its puppet marketing firm (Dairy Management) surprised me (though it did disturb me). The agency’s multiple missions regularly contradict each other in practice.
Through its various branches, this one government body is charged with regulating the safety and quality of America’s food supply (or at least its meat, poultry, and egg products—though not whole eggs, which fall under the FDA’s jurisdiction, oddly enough) while also pushing sales of these same products at home and abroad. It strives to protect the interests of US farmers and, at the same time, to provide dietary guidance and promote proper nutrition.
The agricultural and food processing industries are among the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill and sales of their products generate billions of dollars in profits for US companies every year. Study after study shows that most Americans need fewer calories, not more, and that the majority of these calories should come from unprocessed plant foods, but the cash cows for agribusiness are animal products and processed foods. Thus it’s easy to see why health and nutrition tend to take a backseat to profits under the current system. Morally objectionable, certainly, but not difficult to understand.
My discontent with this state of affairs noted, I’ll save the policy discussion for another arena.
On a brighter note, I had to laugh when I read about Dairy Management’s efforts to devise ingenious strategies to insert ever more dairy products into America’s diet. If they’re running out of ideas, a staff team should make a research trip to the Ajara region of Georgia. Consider the breakfast I’d just eaten before reading the article: it began with achma, which is essentially lasagna but instead of layers of meat and tomato sauce, it’s filled with cheese and butter. I passed on morning dessert, but later that day enjoyed a piece of homemade four-layer honey cake, with a cream of butter and sweetened condensed milk slathered between each tier. As I left for school, Shushana was heating up a pot of milk on the stove, which she would soon stir honey into as a remedy for her 4-year old grandson’s hacking cough.
I’ll be looking for a job come January. If the thought of finding stealthy ways to get people at high risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity to eat more Domino’s pizza and Taco Bell didn’t make my stomach turn, I’d apply to become a consultant for Dairy Management.