Just what is “real” food? According to a UNC student group, FLO (Fair, Local, Organic) Food, real food is “ecologically sound, humane, fair, and community-based.” Carolina Dining Services disagrees, qualifying “real” food as any food produced within a 250-mile radius of the campus. Both of these definitions miss it. In the words of S. Truett Cathy, “Food is essential to life. Therefore, make it good.”

There are several things that go into my decisions about what I eat. However, politics doesn’t usually enter the equation. I don’t particularly care if some multi-national (read: evil) corporation had to burn down half the Amazonian Rain-forest to provide me with a tasty hamburger. I’m primarily concerned with taste and cost. Does it taste good, and can I afford it?

However, there seems to be an increasing trend towards the politicization of food. We’re told that our food needs to be fair and sustainable and community-based. This is quickly followed by “suggestions” from various government organs, like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign. We’re supposed to eat such mouth-watering items as Spinach, Onion, and Zucchini Pizza, Sweeney Cougar Power Lentils, and Mediterranean Quinoa Salad. And such “innovative” approaches to food are not merely limited to your local public school’s cafeteria. Mrs. Obama has also announced that the military will soon be implementing the same sort of meals in military mess halls across the world.

But why all this concern?  After all, it’s not as if Mrs. Obama follows her own food advice. And it’s not as if the stuff that we’re supposed to eat is either cheap or tasty.  At Carrboro’s own Weaver Street Market, the local organic commune, things such as lettuce cost approximately two to three times more than equivalent products at the local Food Lion.

What this issue really boils down to is a matter of control. It’s the same sort of motivation that drives the federal government to control every aspect of the healthcare industry.  Because somewhere along the line, we, the American public, lost the ability to make our own decisions. We’re unable to weigh the potential costs of eating at McDonald’s everyday against the benefit of a relatively cheap meal. So, we need a bunch of nanny-state do-gooders to bombard us with endless propaganda so that we can make the “right” decisions.

They want to force us all into eating the “right” kind of food and the same kind of food. But this ignores one of the most critical aspects of food, namely that it is easily customizable and a reflection of each person’s individual tastes. Every culture, every family, every person has its own special way of cooking. Different foods use different spices or cooking and preparation methods. To deny this is to deny the fundamental nature of food. It is a necessary part of life, but one that is intended to be pleasurable. You have the freedom to choose how you want to satisfy your hunger according to your personal preferences.

People such as Mayor Bloomberg and Michelle Obama seek to deny you this freedom. They postulate all kinds of ideas for you. They mark off long lists of consumption goals (decrease salt intake by 25% over 5 years, etc.) that suggests something closer to the totalitarianism of the Great Leap Forward, during which millions of people starved to death. Mark Twain said,

“There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable, and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. And how strange it is. It is like paying your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.”

If we are to politicize food, it should serve to remind us of the uniqueness and individuality of every person. We cannot all eat the same food, because we do not all like the same food. We should not fear food, for it is good and makes life richer.

Marc Seelinger :: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill :: Chapel Hill, North Carolina :: @MarcSeelinger