Thursday, September 24, 2009

Musings: Godzilla vs. King Kong

I was talking with one of my sisters last night and she mentioned reading a piece by author and food ethicist Michael Pollan, who sees an interesting twist to the health insurance reform debate.

As Pollan notes, many of our health problems, and so many of the high costs related to health care, are directly related to the way we eat:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.
We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.

The American way of eating has become the elephant in the room in the debate over health care. But so far, food system reform has not figured in the national conversation about health care reform.

As things stand, the health care industry finds it more profitable to treat chronic diseases than to prevent them. There’s more money in amputating the limbs of diabetics than in counseling them on diet and exercise.


He then goes on to discuss how health insurance reforms, which would require insurers to provide a standard level of coverage to everyone at the same rate, will result in a “sea change” between the health insurance industry and the food industry.

The moment these new rules take effect, health insurance companies will promptly discover they have a powerful interest in reducing rates of obesity and chronic diseases linked to diet. A patient with Type 2 diabetes incurs additional health care costs of more than $6,600 a year; over a lifetime, that can come to more than $400,000. Insurers will quickly figure out that every case of Type 2 diabetes they can prevent adds $400,000 to their bottom line. Suddenly, every can of soda or Happy Meal or chicken nugget on a school lunch menu will look like a threat to future profits.

Agribusiness dominates the agriculture committees of Congress, and has swatted away most efforts at reform. But what happens when the health insurance industry realizes that our system of farm subsidies makes junk food cheap, and fresh produce dear, and thus contributes to obesity and Type 2 diabetes? It will promptly get involved in the fight over the farm bill — which is to say, the industry will begin buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.


Wow, sort of like Godzilla vs. King Kong.

But that’s what it likely will take to wean America off its deadly King Corn diet, which is not only making us sick, but animals and the planet, too.

Meanwhile, some very intriguing research has emerged that further defines the link between our corn- and soy-dominated diet and obesity. It seems that we, and the animals we eat, used to consume a lot of omega-3 fats, but in the last century, we’ve all upped our intake of omega-6 fats — the kind found in corn and soy.

We are now eating a diet that is supposed to fatten us up for winter, when weather is harsh and calories are scarce. But today food is never scarce for the average American. The base of our food supply has shifted from leaves to seeds, and this simple change means our bodies are storing more fat, leading to obesity and all its associated diseases.

The question now is how do you unravel all this? Farmers are deeply dependent on subsidies, people have grown addicted to their sodas and fast foods, medicine is geared toward repair and maintenance, rather than prevention, government policies favor the status quo.

The same scenario exists in our equally dangerous attachment to fossil fuels, with its own set of powerful interest groups, gas-addicted consumers and government policies that heavily subsidize fossil fuels. According to research done by the Environmental Law Institute in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:

Fossil fuels benefited from approximately $72 billion over the seven-year period [2002-08], while subsidies for renewable fuels totaled only $29 billion. More than half the subsidies for renewables—$16.8 billion—are attributable to corn-based ethanol, the climate effects of which are hotly disputed. Of the fossil fuel subsidies, $70.2 billion went to traditional sources—such as coal and oil—and $2.3 billion went to carbon capture and storage, which is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. Thus, energy subsidies highly favored energy sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases over sources that would decrease our climate footprint.

If it will take something as powerful as insurance interests to topple agribusiness interests, what will it take to topple fossil fuel interests? And what will it take to topple a system that is guided not by the best interests of the people and the planet, but the shareholders?

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

"the way we eat".
Should read the way they ate, past tense. Seems the diet of our great grandparents has much to do with the "eating disorders" we deal with today.
Check with the Norwegian study that was on PBS a couple of nights back.

Anonymous said...

Just don't touch my beer and Cheetos!

Casey said...

Nice post. Solving these big challenges can be easier with dynamic tension between the large invested groups. I never thought about how health care legislation can do this. Let's hope it works!

Anonymous said...

What's a "food ethicist", anyway?

Not one of those crazy vegans, I hope!

Joan Conrow said...

FOOD INC.
A Documentary on Your Dinner

Food Inc. at the Waimea Theater for three nights, 7 PM, Sept 29, 30, & Oct 1. $5.00 includes a free bag of GMO free popcorn. Brought to Kauai by: The Surfrider Foundation, Apollo Kauai - The Vegetarian Society - 1,000 Friends - The Sierra Club-
GMO Free Kaua'i Malama Kaua'i- Regenerations Nursery & Save Our Seas.

Food, Inc., filmmaker Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that has been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA.

Anonymous said...

The movie is also downloadable at:

http://isohunt.com/torrent_details/102222537/food+inc?tab=summary

You will need a bit torrent client.

I recommend utorrent.

Be a Pirate!

Anonymous said...

I read Upton Sinclair. That's enough for me.

Most people, for example, like sausage, but don't want to know how it's made.

I like sausage and know how it's made. I've had meat packing plants as my clients.

Besides, anything sponsored by vegetarians and the Sierra Club isn't likely to get my money.

Anonymous said...

Police Discretion - First thanks you Joan for asking my question of the chief on KKCR. Second I didn't buy the chiefs answer (trust us to exercise discretion). In the Chief's example would not people just pour out the alcohol when they saw the officers approaching? Isn't "blood on the ground and freshly broken glass." sufficient "cause" to question everyone in the vicinity? Third years ago I was pulled over for speeding but when the officer walked up and saw my Hawaii Drivers license he said "Oh your local usually tourist drive these kind of cars". Seems this "tool" is just another tool in the Police "harassment toolbox."

Finally regarding forfeiture it is one of the most corrupt police practices in current law. Please check out FEAR at http://www.fear.org/ for the real story. I rely on your journalists judgment to assess the info presented by FEAR.

Anonymous said...

Most people don't know it, but the government can take people's homes, cars, and money without charging them with a crime -- and the burden of recovery is on the owners!

In Forfeiting Our Property Rights, Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois examines the abuse inherent in civil forfeiture, the law that lets government take property that is merely suspected of having "facilitated" crime. Hyde shows how forfeiture law has cost innocent people their property and at least one citizen, Donald Scott, his life. In fact, over a quarter of a million Americans have had their property seized through forfeiture law.

Congressman Hyde proposes an overhaul of the law to protect innocent property owners, including a shift in the burden of proof from citizen to the government and a raising of the standard the government must satisfy to seize property in the first place. This alarm on behalf of our threatened civil liberties and rights couldn't be more timely.

Anonymous said...

"...Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois...Hyde shows...Congressman Hyde proposes..."

-- dude, you know hyde died in '07, right? just randomly cutting and pasting sans thinking huh? typical


"Most people don't know it, but the government can take people's homes, cars, and money without charging them with a crime -- and the burden of recovery is on the owners!"

-- headline news: if you end up with a bunch of assets you also need to be able to prove to the IRS how you got it / that you got it legitimately. being able to show that you got something in a legit way is also how the feds got al capone (who could not show this)

this is not so say some police departments dont operate illegal forfeiture rackets. there was a recent example in the southern US, now getting hammered by the feds

anyways, thanks for the heads-up, but i would suggest your concerns are better placed elsewhere


a_mainland_mentaility

Anonymous said...

"-- dude, you know hyde died in '07, right? just randomly cutting and pasting sans thinking huh? typical "

Of course I knew Hyde was dead (but his words live on), andt his words on this matter are unfortunately more urgent today than ever before.

BTW you're comment "i would suggest your concerns are better placed elsewhere" is uninformed. Do you know the amount KPD gets in assert forfeiture? You might be unpleasantly surprised! Haven't heard about this problem? Well then I wrongly guess it doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

"BTW you're comment "i would suggest your concerns are better placed elsewhere" is uninformed"

-- oh i think id fair pretty well in that discussion thanks


__same guy

Anonymous said...

"Do you know the amount KPD gets in assert forfeiture? You might be unpleasantly surprised! Haven't heard about this problem?"

Why is it a problem? What is wrong with forfeiting property that is either used in the commission of a crime or obtained with proceeds from the commission of a crime? Give me one example where KPD caused an innocent person's property to be forfeited.

Anonymous said...

"Give me one example where KPD caused an innocent person's property to be forfeited."

Duh! Brian Lentz. All criminal charges dismissed.

Anonymous said...

As Joan quoted; "One of the problems with forfeiture is it has nothing to do with a criminal conviction," said Hilo attorney Chris Yuen, who argued successfully before the U.S. Supreme Court that hearings should be required before property is seized. "The amazing thing is that it can be imposed on an innocent person.""

Anonymous said...

Duh! Brian Lentz. All criminal charges dismissed.

He wasn't "innocent". He was dealing from his house and had 3 1/2 pounds of marijuana.

Anonymous said...

"He wasn't 'innocent'. He was dealing from his house and had 3 1/2 pounds of marijuana.".

Those criminal charges were "dismissed with prejudiced." In common usage "dismissed or not guilty" with regard to legal matters means "innocent". If your meaning of "innocent" is "naive or unsophisticated" then he is also innocent because he could have avoided his land being taken by using a county park. One thing is FOR SURE property lacks any capacity to be guilty or innocent.

Anonymous said...

This ain't no court of law. In your world, OJ is innocent.

Anonymous said...

What is your definition of innocent again? Oh that's you didn't give one. I realize the world is not a court and mahalo for clarifying the world is MINE. By the powers vested in me I hereby forgive you for your sloppy articulations and shallow thought processes for while it vexes mightily verily I say unto you it is not a crime.

Anonymous said...

Innocent means that he didn't commit a crime. Being acquitted or having the charges dismissed does not mean that the person is innocent.

Anonymous said...

"Innocent means that he didn't commit a crime. Being acquitted or having the charges dismissed does not mean that the person is innocent."

By that definition no court has EVER found anyone INNOCENT. Courts convict or dismiss the charges. Seems like "innocent" equates to your personal opinion.

Anonymous said...

In America, a criminal defendant is presumed innocent. In order to convict someone, that is, to find someone guilty, the judge or jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt. The question for criminal courts is not guilt or innocence but whether the person guilty or not guilty. There are many people who were found not guilty but who were hardly innocent. Innocence is not subjective. Either the person committed the crime or he didn't. The question is, can the government prove it? It's hardly the same thing.

Anonymous said...

"Either the person committed the crime or he didn't. The question is, can the government prove it? It's hardly the same thing."

But the outcome is the same as not guilty confers the same right as innocent. If a difference makes no difference there is no difference. If the fact that the person did commit the crime cannot be proven in a court of law innocents becomes "opinion".

Anonymous said...

Apparently, your property can still be forfeited even if you're not guilty (but not innocent, either). Lenz could explain that one to you.