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Health Food Movement Needs Political Savvy

There is a lot of talk about what we need to do about the obesity epidemic we are facing in the U.S… and that’s precisely the problem, according to Jane Black, a food writer for The Atlantic.

“To make real change, reformers need to stop preaching and start forming smart political alliances to get the job done,” says Black.

As she astutely points out, it’s not enough to be right. You can be right about every point on your food policy agenda, but if you don’t have practical and political solutions for achieving results, what good is it?

The problem isn’t unlike any other political battle in our country. You can have truth on your side all you want, but if you aren’t politically savvy with how you brand your messaging, good luck with winning those battles.

Excuse a Minor (But Related) Diversion…

Take our two major parties in the U.S. I’ve always found Republicans to be far superior in the game of political messaging. Democrats get caught up in simply believing they are right, and gosh darn it, that’s enough! Want an example? Global Warming.

It’s an issue almost universally championed by Democrats and historically shunned by Republicans (even though that’s getting more and more difficult as time goes by and glaciers disappear). Global warming was a phrase coined by scientist and educator Wallace Broecker. Since then, it’s been the go-to phrase when discussing the environmental perils we face and what needs to be done on a policy level.

While average temperatures continue to trend up over the long-term, and in a steep incline during the industrial age, the moment there are a few days of abnormally cold days, cynics on the right joke about this silly thing the hippies call global warming, completely ignoring the bigger picture.

Unfortunately, many people are probably susceptible to this sort of cynicism. If politicians on the left would have been smarter about their messaging and used “climate change” rather than global warming, they wouldn’t have to try so hard to convert people. Ironically, the term global warming came from the title of a paper Broecker published, which also had the more politically-favorable phrase… “Climate Change: Are we on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?”.

There is a distinct parallel between the Democrats’ inept political strategizing and the health food movement. Case in point: Last year something occurred that should have been a softball lobbed for the health food movement to hit out of the park, achieving real public policy changes.

A group of retired military officers came to the conclusion that there were too many obese young Americans (27 percent between 18 and 24 years old), which meant they were too fat to serve their country. They urged Congress to pass a child nutrition bill to improve the healthfulness of school meals.

The health food lobby could have screamed bloody murder that our food supply was a threat to national security. That may seem a bit hyperbolic at first, but not so much when you consider the multiple tours of duty our military personnel has had to endure the last 10 years. If we ever had to revisit a draft, would there be enough healthy recruits? This doesn’t even touch on the fact that our healthcare system is nearly bankrupt, in large part to having a population that is increasingly obese.

By missing the ball, the food lobby could be held responsible for what amounts to only modest funding changes in our public schools’ foods. Let’s hope they learn to be more aggressive, and if need be, not afraid of scaring people into converting to their side.

October 26th, 2011

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