November 29 2011

This Is Not Lincoln’s Thanksgiving: The Era of Food Dependence

National Review Online

Julie Gunlock

During Thanksgiving, Americans gather with family to reflect on the blessings in their lives for which they are thankful. 

Oh, whatever!  Thanksgiving is all about the food: Juicy turkey with stuffing, creamy mashedpotatoes smothered in homemade gravy, cheesy broccoli casserole, sweet and tart cranberries.  Even Sean Penn must be thrilled to be an American on the third Thursday each November.

But this Thanksgiving, Americans should do more than just eat.  They should reflect on how the food they love is under attack.  Food prices are up a full 13 percent this year. Governments at all levels are conspiring to tell Americans what they can and cannot eat through an over-sized helping of regulations and taxes, which push food prices up, eliminate choice, and make our food taste worse. 

Sadly, this Thanksgiving marks a new period in American history: The era of food dependence.

Nearly 150 years ago, when President Lincoln declared the third Thursday in November a national day to give thanks, people largely relied on their hunting, foraging, and agricultural skills to eat.  If you wanted a turkey, you had to shoot it yourself.  Can you imagine most of our modern men heading out to shoot a turkey today?  More importantly, did they update their hunting license?  And just how did those early Americans cook a turkey without all those warning labels about the proper cooking temperature?  Those early settlers sure were risk takers. 

Want a good bread stuffing?  Early settlers first had to bake the bread out of the flour ground from the grain they planted last spring.  Today, many communities ban the planting of gardens . . . on your own land.  Need some cream for those mashed potatoes?  Settlers first had to head out to the dairy barn in the blistering cold to milk the cow.  But things are a little different today; most states won’t allow Americans to drink unpasteurized milk they get from their own cattle. 

Of course, no one advocates a return to the days of throwing a musket over your shoulder to head out to shoot “yer kinfolk some turkey.” After all, let’s not forget another quite common thing that happened 150 years ago: starvation.  Yet it is still worth reflecting on how far we’ve come from those days when relying on oneself — and using common sense about how to prepare foods — was the norm, not the exception. 

Indeed, our modern world with ubiquitous grocery stores and trade with other countries (with warmer climates) has made life easier and products more readily available.  Yet, despite these contemporary conveniences, it appears modern Americans need more help than ever to properly feed their families. 

Today, the federal government spends nearly $30,000 per low-income household on a variety of food assistance programs and a whopping 15 percent of the American public (that’s one in seven Americans!) relies on food stamps, the budget for which has doubled since 2007 to $70 billion. 

Clearly such assistance programs are not just a safety net for those truly in need, but are increasingly a middle-class entitlement that is fostering a general dependence on government — a dependence that conflicts with our great American tradition of independence.

There’s another, far more effective, way the government could help the poor get enough to eat: Keep food prices low.  Yet, the government is doing just the opposite by regulating the food industry — a move that will hike prices even more.  These paternalistic measures — which include salt bans, soda and snack-food taxes, toy bans, and regulations on restaurants, grocery stores, and food manufacturers — will cost the food industry billions of dollars in lost revenue and upwards of 74,000 jobs.  Tragically, it will also keep many Americans reliant on the government for their family’s dietary needs.

The early settlers gathered on Thanksgiving to thank God for providing them the bounty before them.  Today, too many Americans are thanking a different source for their food: the mighty federal government.  We must all remember that our nation was founded on the concept of limited government.  Placing onerous regulations on food manufacturers, limiting the foods we love, and fostering dependence on government is outside the government’s proper bounds.

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