Chew On This

The Food Network’s Alton Brown reveals a libertarian streak

My wife loves the Food Network. And, judging from my waistline, I love that my wife loves the Food Network.

Twice now, while visiting a great little roadside eatery in Mount Pleasant, SC owned and run by a family friend, we’ve run into Food Network host Alton Brown. He had previously featured the joint on one of his shows, but it was nonetheless a surprise to see him there, especially on both occasions. Each time, he was gracious and nice.

For those who haven’t ever caught his program, it really is entertaining. And while I cannot say one way or another what his politics are, according to Patrick Gavin at Politico, Brown recently got political at a recent speaking engagement.

His speech was entitled, “10 Things I Know About Food,” and among his points were:

“No Government Can Keep Your Food Safe.” Brown railed against the USDA and FDA and said the “world food system is too complex” for the federal government to “keep track of every piece of food in the country,” according to a source in attendance.

Brown said that the federal government should get out of the food regulation game and leave it to the states to partner with research universities to identify and contain outbreaks. One audience member challenged Brown on this point, asking if this would simply pass the responsibility to another bureaucracy, but Brown held his ground, saying that states and colleges are doing “real science” and are less interested in “special interests, lobbyists and campaign donations.”

Brown also took a shot at Wal-Mart for “driving America’s poor into slavery — the slavery of malnutrition.” In a section of his speech entitled, “Beware Chinese Chili,” Brown said that people are now buying 74-cent cans of chili made in China instead of cooking for themselves. Some in the audience took exception to that, saying that many people in American either can’t afford to whip up homecooked meals or simply don’t have the time. Brown rejected that notion, however, suggesting that American corporations start making more nutritious food even if “food costs will increase” — it’s better in the long run.

Brown referenced the documentary “Super Size Me!,” in which documentarian Morgan Spurlock ate nothing but McDonalds for a month. “People were SHOCKED. Shocked I say!” said Brown. “McDonalds’ job is not to feed you … to provide nourishment … [It is to sell you hamburgers] to serve its stockholders… And that’s fine. That’s how it is SUPPOSED to work. … If you are dumb enough to eat it three times a day, you should just die and get out of the way of the rest of us.” He added that, if parents can’t teach your kids how to feed themselves properly, “then you shouldn’t have them.”

Whether Brown considers himself a Democrat or Republican is no care of mine, but this was certainly very libertarian of him. What business indeed does the federal government have in the food regulation industry? Certainly, such authority is not in the Constitution, and don’t give me that General Welfare Clause stuff — James Madison himself said that, if the General Welfare Clause was to apply to anything and everything beyond the scope of governmental authority as proscribed by Article 1, Section 8, then we might as well scrap the whole document. “To take [the words 'General Welfare'] in a literal and unlimited sense,” he wrote, “would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators.”

With the possible exception of his assertion that educational institutions are immune to influence from donations and special interests, as well as his criticism of Wal-Mart–as a dad whose family barely scrapes by, I understand all too well the benefits of having inexpensive choices at the supermarket without being robbed of healthy foods altogether–I agree with Brown wholeheartedly. Bureaucracy has no business in food. Nutritious food should be valued and selected whenever possible. And people who gorge themselves on Big Macs and Chicken Nuggets day after day should be prepared to reap what they’ve sown.

His last statement is, perhaps, the best one. If parents cannot teach their children to feed themselves properly, he argued, then they shouldn’t be having them. Yes, money can always be an obstacle to perfect nutrition, but that’s not what I’m referring to — I’m referring to the transfer of responsibility we’ve seen now, how parents are looking to schools instead of themselves to raise their children, and how so many feed their kids what’s easiest instead of what’s right.

I may not know where Mr. Brown’s political affiliations lie, but from his comments at the National History Museum, it’s apparent that he understands the proper role of government, and the value of self-reliance and personal responsibility. Even if it does have only to do with food, it’s certainly a start.



  1. Rix says:

    Frankly, outside of a food-unrelated Constitutional issue of limited federal powers, I don't see how states-controlled food quality will be any better than federally-controlled food quality. Moreover, FDA is one of a very few federal bodies which I believe to be beneficial (in theory, at least) and often vital. You have to shop and cook in today's Russia for a week to know first-hand what federal food standards protect us from.

    As for the Super Size Me, it was one large stinking piece of anti-globalism crapola. Hamburgers, even as lousy as McDonald's, are of much better nutritional value than at least half of the food Americans buy in supermarkets. It is the fries and especially the Coke that kill one's metabolism.

  2. California Mom says:

    I knew I liked him for a reason!! ;>

  3. goddessdivine says:

    I too raise my eyebrow at the Walmart assertion (nothing wrong with a company offering the same foods a real grocery store offers but for cheaper). I don't make anything home-made; who has time for that? I still eat pretty healthy.

    But amen to getting the govt out of yet another aspect of our lives! Let the market decide.

  4. Amy says:

    I would even go farther with the statement that if parents can't teach their kids to feed themselves properly, then they shouldn't have them. I would say that if parents can't afford to feed their kids properly, then they shouldn't have them.

    I understand the reduced and free lunch program at schools, but there are families that use that system for as long as their kids are in school. Parents really need to re-evaluate what they have done wrong with their lives if their children have to be fed lunch by the taxpayers. If you can't even afford to send your child to school with a peanutbutter sandwich, you really made a mistake in having kids. Of course, I'm sure those kids have cell phones and Playstation 3's.

  5. Sam Fain says:

    I humbly admit that if I have time, I rather enjoy watching "Good Eats". This just reinforces my respect for Mr.Brown.

    I especially agree with his statement about the role of government (or preferably lack thereof) in policing the food. Free market and a healthy legal system (yes, that includes ambulance chasers) is what drives safety or any other product-related changes, not bureaucratic deliberations of career politicians.

  6. Rix says:

    > If you can't even afford to send your child to school with a
    > peanutbutter sandwich, you really made a mistake in having kids.

    My not-so-politically-correct view is that the society is making a mistake in allowing people unable to feed ther own kids to have them. In XVIII century, harsh living conditions and natural selection took care of the problem; these days, we the taxpayers are charged with paying for someone's choice of not using a condom.

  7. Still a Patriot says:

    Hi Jeff -

    I have taken to reading labels of all food that I buy. Even a bag of frozen vegetables can be coming from China!

    Rix – I caught the tail end of a program on NPR about meat processing plants in the US. They were saying that the hamburger meat they sell to McDonald's is ground from all the scraps they gather up & is injected with chemicals such as ammonia. So, I'd say the burger is no better than the fries!


  8. Rix says:

    > Rix – I caught the tail end of a program on NPR about meat processing
    > plants in the US. They were saying that the hamburger meat they sell to
    > McDonald's is ground from all the scraps they gather up & is injected
    > with chemicals such as ammonia. So, I'd say the burger is no better
    > than the fries!

    Please clarify, was it the same NPR that endorsed and advertised "Super Size Me"? Yes, McDonald's patties are made of scraps but so is ground meat that we buy in the supermarket. As for chemicals, nitrites (not ammonia, which is a nice name for urine), while not exactly healthy, are added to almost every pastry food.

  9. Still a Patriot says:

    Hi Rix -

    I heard it on a Wisconsin Public Radio show – they were interviewing someone who works at a slaughter plant. I didn't get to hear the whole program, so I'm not sure what their angle was.


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