BOOK REVIEW: 'The Food Police': Food Economist Jayson Lusk Takes on the Food Elite That Doesn't Like What You Eat

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Food Police': Food Economist Jayson Lusk Takes on the Food Elite That Doesn't Like What You Eat

Last June 9, I covered the opposition to the local food, anti-factory farming movement, and anti-Monsantans with my review of "The Locavore's Dilemma" by two Canadians who took issue with best-selling locavore Michael Pollan (link:

 From my review: "Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu in "The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-Mile Diet" ….counter the views of Michael Pollan and others who want us to eat locally produced food.... the Canadian husband-wife writing team of Desrochers and Shimizu reveal the flaws of locavorism with a scrupulously-researched deconstruction of the "eat local" ethos — and how it distracts us from solving serious global food issues. (By the way, did you know that Pollan is the brother of actress Tracy Pollan, the wife of actor Michael J. Fox?)

 Now comes Jayson Lusk, an agricultural economist who says in "The Food Police: A Well-Fed Manifesto About the Politics of Your Plate" (Crown Forum, 240 pages, notes, index,  $24.00) that we're being fed a bunch of lies by the left-wing "holier than thou art" foodie elite who think they know exactly what we should grow, cook and eat.

 While everyone from Michael Pollan to Mark Bittman to Alice Waters has touted the benefits of eating organic, buying vegetables at your local farmer’s market, and eliminating genetically modified foods from your diet, where’s the science to back it up? Lusk, who readily admits he grocery-shops at Walmart,  argues that these culinary commandments are unnecessary and elitist, privileging those who can afford to buy “better” foods and turning our dinner tables into yet another supposedly private entity ripe for liberal government intrusion.

In "The Food Police" Lusk tells us why:

·  Organic food is not necessarily healthier or tastier (and is certainly more expensive)

·   Genetically modified foods haven’t sickened a single person but they do hold the promise of feeding impoverished Africans

 ·   Voguish locavorism is not greener or better for the economy

·    Fat taxes and soda bans won’t slim our waists (economic research shows these have trivial effects on weight) and are in fact akin to reducing people’s income

 ·   “Fixing” school lunch programs won’t make our kids any smarter

 ·    The food police believe an iPad is a technological marvel but that food technology is an industrial evil


As a simple country boy (I grew up from 1938 to 1949 on a small farm in southwestern Michigan with cows, corn, chickens and goats) I don't know who's right on this issue. I'm guessing our Van Buren County spread was mostly organic, judging by the presence of a working manure spreader, and I know that traditional ways like growing what you can eat and canning as much as possible kept us from starving to death. I found both books helpful in my understanding of food production today. And I learned there actually is a profession called food economist!

 For columnist Perry Mann's take on Michael Pollan's "The Botany of Desire" click on:

 And for my Dec. 16, 2007 review of Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" -- the book that started it all -- click on:

About the Author

 Jayson Lusk is a professor and the Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the agricultural economics department at Oklahoma State University. In the past ten years, Lusk has published more than one hundred articles in peer-reviewed journals on topics related to consumer behavior and food marketing and policy.  By many accounts, he is the most cited and most prolific food economist of his generation.

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Here's a lengthy excerpt from Jayson Lusk's "The Food Police":

A Skeptical Foodie

A catastrophe is looming. Farmers are raping the land and torturing animals. Food is riddled with deadly pesticides, hormones, and foreign DNA. Corporate farms are wallowing in government subsidies. Meatpackers and fast-­food restaurants are exploiting workers and tainting the food supply. And Paula Deen has diabetes.

Something must be done.

Or so you would believe if you listened to the hysterics of an emerging elite who claim to know better what we should eat. I call them the food police to be polite, but a more accu- rate term might be food fascists or food socialists. They are totalitarians when it comes to food, and they seek control over your refrigerator, by governmental regulation when they can or by moralizing and guilt when they can’t. They play on fears and prejudices while claiming the high mantle of science and impartial journalism. And their dirty little secret is that they embrace an ideological agenda that seeks to control your dinner table and your wallet.

A chorus of authors, talk show hosts, politicians, and celebrity chefs has emerged as the self-­appointed saviors of our food system. They are right about one thing: There is something sinister about our dinner plans. The food police are showing up uninvited.

Whatever tonight’s plans, you’d better make room for another guest. It isn’t the polite sort who calls ahead and asks what he can bring; it’s the impertinent snob who’s coming over whether you like it or not, demanding his favorite dish to boot. Be careful what you choose to serve—­if isn’t made with the finest local ingredients painstakingly bought from small organic farms, expect an evening of condescension and moralizing. And at all costs, avoid the meat from cows fed corn, or you’ll have a riot of political correctness on your hands.

Like it or not, the food police will be at dinner. It is impossible to turn on the TV, pick up a book about food, or stroll through the grocery store without hearing a sermon on how to eat. We have been pronounced a nation of sinful eaters, and the food police have made it their mission that we seek contrition for every meal. We are guilty of violating the elite’s revelations. Thou shalt not eat at McDonald’s, buy eggs from chickens raised in cages, buy tomatoes from Mexico, or feed your infant nonorganic baby food. There can be no lack of faith in the elite’s dictates. There are no difficult trade-­offs and no gray areas. Thou shalt sacrifice taste for nutrition, convenience for sustainability, and low prices for social justice.

 And if we won’t willingly repent, the high priests of politically correct food will regulate us into submission. If you aren’t convinced, consider just a few examples of the food police in action.

 Trans Fat Bans

Try a doughnut the next time you’re in New York City or Philadelphia. Not as tasty as it used to be, is it? For this we can thank the food police and their war on trans fats.1 And what a service it has been; we should be grateful to have been taught the shocking truth that too many Oreos and doughnuts are unhealthy!

 Outlawed Happy Meals

Do you have children? Want to reward them for an A+ on their spelling test? Don’t even think about taking them to McDonald’s in San Francisco or you’ll have a backseat of unhappy campers. The city’s board of supervisors tried to ban toys in Happy Meals as a way of “moving forward an agenda of food justice.”2 The hypocrisy is astounding. So now, “in the City by the Bay, if you want to roller skate naked down Castro Street wearing a phallic-­symbol hat and snorting an eight-­ball off a transgender hooker’s chest while underage kids run behind you handing out free heroin needles, condoms and coupons . . . that’s your right as a free citizen of the United States. But if you want to put a Buzz Lightyear toy in the same box with a hamburger and fries and sell it, you’re outta line, mister!”3

 Twinkie Taxes

Despite the economic research clearly showing that fat taxes will do little to slim our waistlines, food police across the nation are hiking food prices by implementing various forms of taxes on soda, fat, and fast food. In his book The World Is Fat, University of North Carolina professor Barry Popkin says, “Taxing the added sugar in beverages is a favorite strategy of mine.”4 So now you know whom to thank when your grocery bill is 100 percent higher and half as tasty.

  Local Food Subsidies and Purchasing Requirements

Rather than using our tax dollars to shore up Medicare or Social Security, the food police want to subsidize your neighbor’s purchase of local asparagus. With the help of lawmakers, bestselling author Michael Pollan wants to “require that a certain percentage of that school-­lunch fund in every school district has to be spent within 100 miles.”5 Tough luck for citrus-­loving children in Minnesota.

 Affirmative Action for Cows

The Obama administration tried to implement rules on the “fair” pricing of livestock that would have required ranchers and meatpackers to justify to the government the prices they freely pay and accept for cattle. Cowboys across the nation would have had to tell Uncle Sam why they paid more for a hearty registered Angus than a scrawny half-­breed. In a move projected to have cost farmers and consumers more than $1.5 billion annually, and radically altered the structure of the livestock sector, the food police unwittingly married George Orwell’s two greatest works by bringing Big Brother [from "1984"] onto "Animal Farm." 

  Dirt Taxes

 As if just now realizing that corn grows in the ground, the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to implement rules enabling it to fine farmers if their tractors kick up too much dust. Charlie Brown’s friend Pig-­Pen had better watch his back.

Fruit and Veggie Subsidies

Convinced that the food industry is “incapable of marketing healthier foods,” New York Times food writer Mark Bittman wants to expand the welfare state by cajoling farmers and consumers into growing and buying the stuff he prefers that we eat. Bittman wants to enact policies that will “subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.”7

Foie Gras Bans

Only after a groundswell of outrage from chefs and restaurant-­goers did the city of Chicago rescind its ban on the duck and goose liver delicacy. Undeterred by the suffering palates of their Midwestern brethren, the state of California now bars its own citizens from buying what can be found on almost every street in Paris.

Regulating Happy Hens and Hogs

 Despite the fact that fewer than 5 percent of consumers buy cage-­free eggs or pork, activist efforts have led to ballot initiatives and legislation in at least eight states requiring farmers to use cage-­free production systems. The laws force farmers to adopt practices that consumers aren’t fully willing to pay for. 


Wirelessly pontificating on Facebook and Twitter via their 64 GB iPads, the food police welcome new technology—­that is, unless it relates to food. Unwilling to accept the scientific evidence on the potential price-­reducing and safety-­enhancing advantages of new food technologies, the food police promote bans, taxes, restrictions, and propaganda on technologies such as preservatives, irradiation, biotechnology, cloning, and pesticides. They even spread fear about age-­old practices such as pasteurization, hybrid plant breeding, and grain-­fed livestock.

 Schoolroom Indoctrination

 The food police seek to indoctrinate our children, not by teaching food science and nutrition, but by advancing the cause of fashionable foods. Famed food activist and restaurant owner Alice Waters wants “a total dispensation from the president of the United States who will say, ‘We need a curriculum in the public school system that teaches our kids, from the time they are very little, about food and where it comes from. And we want to buy food from local people in every community to rebuild the agriculture.’ ” She says that we “must get Obama to understand the pleasures of the table.”9 His wife was listening. Michelle Obama’s signature childhood nutrition bill took $4.5 billion away from food stamp recipients to expand the federal government’s role in regulating school lunches and significantly increased food costs to local schools throughout the nation. 

Restrictions on Freedom of Speech

A team of four government agencies—­the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—­have banded together under the auspices of an Interagency Working Group to recommend prohibitions against certain food advertisements to children. Some like-­minded members of the food elite want to invoke a version of the Fairness Doctrine, demanding equal airtime to run government and activist-­sponsored ads about food.


These are but a few examples of the growing intrusions by the food police. Taken in isolation, any one of the regulations might not seem so bad and may even appear helpful. Therein lies the danger. You won’t yet find a single omnibus piece of legislation restricting your food freedoms, but the planks in the road are slowly being replaced without the travelers even realizing construction is under way. And guess who is left to pay the toll at road’s end? With a ban on trans fats here, a fat tax there, here a local foods subsidy, there a pesticide ban, everywhere an organic food—­before you know it, Old McDonald has a new farm.


Michelle Obama’s White House garden was a symbolic nod granted to the growing reality of a movement that seeks more control over what we eat. Even New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the encroaching government hand in food. After congratulating himself on helping New York City ban trans fats, successfully pressuring food companies to reduce salt, and selectively licensing “green” produce vendors, Bloomberg told the UN General Assembly that “Governments at all levels must make healthy solutions the default social option. That is ultimately government’s highest duty.”11 Never mind national defense or the government’s duty to life and liberty or leaving un­enumerated powers to the states: healthy food is now apparently the be-­all and end-­all of good government.


These are many of the same people who scream, “It’s a woman’s body,” any time the subject of abortion comes up. According to them, a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body. That is, unless she wants to eat something deemed morally defunct. You know, something as reprehensible as a Nestlé Toll House cookie or a Big Mac.


Excerpted from The Food Police by Jayson Lusk. Copyright © 2013 by Jayson Lusk. Excerpted by permission of Crown Forum, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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