Monday, April 15, 2013

The Broccoli Horrible?

A "horrible" is a form of argument which uses a logical fallacy to create an absurdly awful result. 

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable with a reputation for foul taste among those with bland palates.

The quintessential "broccoli horrible" was used by conservative commentators as a critique of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act a/k/a/ "Obamacare."  The critique was a classic slippery slope argument: approving a law where the federal government may require that people do X, means that later the people can be required to do Y. In this case, the "individual mandate" provisions of the ACA required all individuals to have a minimum level of health insurance or pay a penalty.  The argument ran that this requirement infringed personal liberty interests protected by the U.S. Constitution and represented a dangerous trend (see "Small Change Tolerance" discussed by Eugene Volokh at  The end result was that the Federal Government could force people to buy broccoli.  

The irony of this argument is hard to overstate.  All taxpayers in the United States are already forced to buy food ingredients.  The policy of the Untied States Government since the Great Depression has been to support prices in order to keep farmers afloat.  During the 1970s, the nature of those payments changed with the policy directive of Dr. Earl Butz, an Agricultural Economist from Purdue who served as Secretary of Agriculture under Richard Nixon.  Dr. Butz promoted corn production in surplus of economic demand by having the government support overproduction with subsidy payments. 

The subsidized "commodities" are not actual food, but do serve as food ingredients.  Chief among these is feed corn.  While the United States taxpayers have paid more than $77 billion to corn farmers over the past 15 years, the corn they grow is basically inedible "feed corn."  This feed corn is in turn made into fuel, corn syrup and CAFO meat.  We are already living under a "Corn Horrible," an experiment on the health of my generation and those following mine. The Corn Horrible experiment has not been a success for the health of our nation's people, its air or its waters.  It has made fortunes for some large agribusinesses and a small army of lobbyists. 

If we turned the Farm Bill funds away from subsidizing large agribusiness and towards consumer choice, more people could afford to buy the food they want to eat.  While the price of soda has decreased in real dollars since the 1970s, the price of fruits and vegetables has increased.  High consumption of soda is a risk factor in obesity and diabetes, two of the diseases driving up health care costs.  The Corn Horrible is thus driving us into health care bankruptcy 

Aside from this, there is the problem of broccoli's taste reputation.  As the New Yorker blog pointed out, the members of the SCOTUS primarily proved that they did not know how to cook broccoli.  Overcooked mushy broccoli or crudite broccoli seemed to be the only options they considered.  Broccoli can stand on its own if folks know how to prepare it and serve it.  Bad cafeterias and cheap grocery-store "veggie platters" are not the mascots we need.

So this blog is dedicated to two things: rants and recipes.

Bon Apetit

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