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Williamson on Those Nazi Food Regulations

Kevin Williamson of the National Review has found something to make him very upset. So upset that it makes him want to “burn my passport and move into a fortified rural compound.” So upset that he compares it the actions of the Gestapo in Nazi Germany. What is it? Federal regulation of food content.

Eggnog in particular. It’s in this article detailing what is inside the eggnog you’re buying at the grocery store:

Cholesterol-laden home recipes for nog call for six to 12 eggs per quart of milk. This version—which shows up in stores for the holidays—contains far fewer. Based on the total cholesterol content, we estimate that it has just two large egg yolks per quart. Because eggnog contains dairy and eggs, it’s regulated by the FDA, which requires commercial nog to contain 1 percent “egg yolk solids.”…

The FDA dictates that US nog have at least 6 percent milk fat. Since whole milk is only about 3.5 percent, many manufacturers add a dollop of cream to boost the lipids.

And Williamson’s reaction:

Somewhere in the vast array of federal rules and regulations — the 10,000 Commandments — is one specifying the minimum of milk fat that eggnog shall contain. Did the men who fought at Lexington and Concord do so in order to set up a new regime that would manage their lives on this level? King George III would never have dreamed of such imperious behavior. Is there nothing too trivial for the federal government to micromanage?…

I shall now set something on fire.

Yes, he’s clearly exaggerating for some non-comedic effect. But seriously, this is worth pulling out the Hitler analogies? This is what it takes to make a right winger freak out?

Comments

  1. abb3w says

    I suspect he hasn’t considered that without some rules, soy products that have never been within five miles of a cow could also be passed off as “egg nog”. Or artificially flavored melamine water suspension.

  2. Chiroptera says

    Did the men who fought at Lexington and Concord do so in order to set up a new regime that would manage their lives on this level?

    Unless the brave Freedom Fighters at Lexington and Concord were mass producing mass amounts of egg nog to sell in large supermarkets in all the far-flung corners of this Great Nation, then these regulations wouldn’t really be managing their lives at all.

    On the other hand, if these people were living in a modern industrial economy, where food is produced largely by large corporations managed by people whose trainining is primarily in increasing the profits on paper rather than actually making things, and where the food is being shipped large distances where the buyers don’t know who or where the original producers are located…

    …I suspect that they would welcome this kind of oversight on an economy where individuals have little or no control.

  3. Ben P says

    Clearly williamson has never watched Alton Brown’s Good Eats. Brown’s show regularly had segments where he consults FDA regs to explain what the difference between various food products are.

    The specificity of FDA regulations is one of those things I’m ambivalent about, they are extremely voluminous, but realistically they’re just labeling regulations. The regulation isn’t so much that Egg Nog must have at least 6% milk fat, it’s that if you’re labeling something as “Egg Nog” it must have at least 6% milkfat. If it doesn’t, you have to call it something else. There’s nothing in the FDA regulations that says you can’t concoct your own recipie and sell it as “Smith’s Home Made Custard Drink” or something.

    These are in the same body of FDA regs that, for example, lead to having “Orange Juice,” “Orange Juice Cocktail,” and “Orange Flavored Drink” etc.

  4. says

    I suspect he hasn’t considered that without some rules, soy products that have never been within five miles of a cow could also be passed off as “egg nog”. Or artificially flavored melamine water suspension.

    Ridiculous, our honest concerned corporate citizens would never take advantage of us in that way. Can you provide any documentation to show a such chicanery?

    /sarcasm

  5. baal says

    And here I’m sitting thinking most of what passes for food in this country isn’t. It’s a fricking PITA the efforts I go through to wash, prep, cook and bring my own food to work. I can eat only so much commercially made food and not feel lethargic and gain weight (even if I subjectively feel endlessly hungry). Worse, sucralose, nitrites and artificial smoke flavoring (and nothing else) are guaranteed migraines for me. Other folks have other problems that are real (celeriac for one, I’ve not been convinced MSG is bad and the folks who complain about it don’t have an issue with hydrolysed yeast extract (which has MSG in it…)). When I do the nutritional compare between the food I make and what’s available commercially, it’s a travesty of bad fats, salt. Micro nutrients (MN MG etc) and fiber (know those digestive bacteria? we evolved with them being nurtured which includes fiber).

    We have a long way to go towards rational food regulations.

    And we wonder why obesity is a national pandemic.

    Also, the irony is that the usual ‘rural’ diet is low on over processed foods so he’d probably get a better diet than even the meager US regs suggest.

  6. leftwingfox says

    Anyone remember what happens when corporations DON’T have minimum contents required in food labelling?

    Kraft “Guacamole” , which contains no actual avocado.

    Food beyond compare
    Food beyond belief
    Mix it in a mincer
    And pretend it’s beef
    Kidney of a horse
    Liver of a cat
    Filling up the sausages
    With this and that…

  7. Ben P says

    Also, the irony is that the usual ‘rural’ diet is low on over processed foods so he’d probably get a better diet than even the meager US regs suggest.

    Health concerns are one thing, but I think there’s a bit of over idolization of “rural” and “poor” diets, at least as it concerns their healthfulness. Throughout history most rural poor ate vegetables, grains, and only small amounts of meat because that was the cheapest available food source (or the only available food source if subsistence farming).

    Industrial farming dramatically shifted what “cheap” means and people responded rationally.

  8. says

    Also, egg nog is gross.

    May it never be! Egg nog rocks!

    Although I once hosted a party for my Baptist Church. I made two types of eggnog, one without rum and one with so much it was flammable. I cleverly labelled them “Baptist Nog” and “Presbyterian Nog”. Everyone understood the difference.

    Except the kids. Fortunately only one really liked eggnog–and didn’t know what “Presbyterian Nog” implied. But he liked it. A lot. My bad.

    Back to OP. I am never sympathetic to a Godwin. But I am also somewhat sympathetic to the anti-regulation outrage, but only as it applies to clear nanny-state intrusions, like Bloomberg’s restriction on soda size. I want the government to protect me from things over which I have no control and can’t see–like heavy metals or botulism in my food–but not over what I knowingly chose to ingest, like sugary calories or fat.

  9. eric says

    China is undercutting food prices by putting shredded plastic in their exports. Our US corporations must be allowed to compete! You liberals need to understand that we are facing a plastic-in-dog-food gap!

  10. says

    Given the asymmetry of information between manufacturers & consumers, and the limited resources of time & effort that people can apply as consumers to protect their rights & interests, enforceable third-party regulation, however imperfect, is likely a far better solution to the problem of consumer protection than either relying on caveat emptor or relying on voluntary approaches by manufacturers.

    In addition, as touched on already by others, Williamson’s analogy does not hold because the society, and the industry of food production/agribusiness, was vastly different during the time of the American Revolution versus today; indeed I dare say late-18th-century food production has far more in common with food production in the 8th century, or indeed, say, the 1st century BCE, than it does with contemporary food production (at least in the US).

    In other words, Williamson should eat his words. Along with the melamine-contaminated food he apparently doesn’t mind having to put up with.

  11. Ben P says

    I want the government to protect me from things over which I have no control and can’t see–like heavy metals or botulism in my food–but not over what I knowingly chose to ingest, like sugary calories or fat.

    That’s the source of some of my ambivalence.

    I think regulations requiring nutritional disclosure are good, and I can certainly see the reasoning behind labeling regulations, for example, whole milk is at least 3% milk fat but no more than 4%, reduced fact milk is no more than 2% Milk fat and skim milk is no more than .5% milk fat.

    But when you get into more obscure categories you sort of get into a priority question. Are resources better spent enforcing whether someone is properly labeling egg nogg or checking to see if a large factory farm is producing contaminated meat?

  12. says

    busterggi “If Republicans believed in truth in packaging they wouldn’t have nominated Romney this year.”
    What could be more honest than a completely transparent wrapper?

  13. says

    I am very very tired of any and all Founding Fathers arguments. I don’t care what they believed, what they were trying to do, what their intentions (hidden or overt) were on any subject.

    That was over two hundred years ago, people. The World. Has. Changed. And it keeps changing at an ever-increasing rate. The opinions and beliefs of the guys in charge two centuries ago just doesn’t have any bearing on the modern world.

    Now, some of what they believed (the big, general principles) is also applicable today – but it’s applicable because people today believe it, too. If nobody did, then none of that would apply, either.

    So stop bothering me with ancient quotes as if they should end the debate.

  14. Chiroptera says

    Heddle, #13:

    I want the government to protect me from things over which I have no control and can’t see–like heavy metals or botulism in my food–but not over what I knowingly chose to ingest, like sugary calories or fat.

    As many have already pointed out, much of the food regulations in the US, and the ones referenced in the OP, are labelling regulations. Those are meant to give you the information you need to be able to choose whether you want to ingest them or not.

  15. raven says

    Keven Williamson:

    “burn my passport and move into a fortified rural compound.”

    We wish you would do that too, Keven. Better yet, crawl back under your rock.

    Just don’t build your fortified rural compound in our neighborhoods. We don’t need to take the hit to property values.

  16. says

    Baal,

    This is obviously anecdotal, but I do notice that I have reactions to both MSG and hydrolyzed yeast extract (and mushrooms,etc.). They appear to be dose-dependent, but I don’t have a good way of determining the exact dose or the equivalancies. I do know that foods with MSG have a stronger effect on me, and in sufficient doses can cause migraines (similar to the ones I get from sucralose and aspartame, for that matter). With yeast extract, I can sometimes even get away without symptoms – that almost never happens with MSG-labeled foods, even when I am blinded to the contents. So it is quite possible that there is a threshold (variable in time and individual) below which no symptoms are noticeable, and hydrolyzed yeast extract may be below that threshold for most people. That said, a lot of the health issues commonly ascribed to MSG are questionable, at best.

  17. says

    If one looks at what was passed off as commercially prepared “food” before the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 — milk being diluted with water and chalk, sawdust being used in bread, rats being used in ground meat, bologna and sausage — even Kevin Williamson would bless Teddy Roosevelt’s progressive agenda that pushed through the first food regulation laws.

    Alas, people like him are too willfully ignorant give a rat’s tail about trivial matters like “Why.”

  18. Anthony K says

    You liberals need to understand that we are facing a plastic-in-dog-food gap!

    Yes, but only because we colour our shredded plastic green and put it on top of Big Macs.

  19. eric says

    @20:

    As many have already pointed out, much of the food regulations in the US, and the ones referenced in the OP, are labelling regulations.

    To be fair, i believe milk and egg products have a lot of fairly stringent production regulations associated with them (moreso than other food products), not just labeling ones. This is because in the US, milk has a very rapid supply chain – things go from farm to store extremely quickly. This in turn means there is very little time or ability for producers to detect a problem before consumers will be affected. So, it makes sense to have more regulation on production there than you would on a product that sits in a warehouse for weeks before anyone ever eats it.

    This problem is mitigated somewhat in Canada and Europe, because they irradiate their milk instead of pasteurizing it. Which gives it a longer shelf life and means the supply chain may have more time to detect a problem before it affects consumers.

    Which is a very long-winded way of saying that the milk and egg nog issue is not just about labeling regulations, its about actual product regulation – but there are (arguably) good reasons why these specific products have higher regulation associated with them.

  20. says

    A while ago, Amanda Marcotte at the old Pandagon had a post discussing something similar to this. To paraphrase and edit her example:

    Let’s pretend that you are going to one of two parties. One is hosted by Alice and one is being hosted by Bret. Let’s assume, for simplification purposes, that the only thing being served there is iced tea.

    If you go to Alice’s party, you’ll be given sugar free iced tea. She will also provide a bowl of sugar and spoons, so you can add as much sugar to your iced tea as you want.

    If you go to Bret’s party, he’ll serve iced tea with so much sugar that it’s a dental carie’s wet dream. If you object, you can just f*** off and go elsewhere, as he won’t be providing anything to dilute the iced tea.

    Now, at which one of these parties are you freer (measured by having more choices)? Rational people would clearly choose Alice’s party. There, you are free to have as much or as little sugar in your iced tea as you want. No one in their right mind would possibly choose Bret’s party, where that decision is taken away from you.

    Bu what the wingnuts opposed to product labeling laws (because they result in [say] the government deciding how much sugar you can eat) is that you are freer at Bret’s party. They are acting as if bowls of sugar don’t exist. They are literally taking freedom to decide how much sugar you have in your iced tea away from you.

    Although I used iced tea in my example, the same applies to eggnog. Absolutely no one is preventing Williamson from buying skim milk or heavy cream to fatten/unfatten his eggnog. Similarly, no one is preventing him from buying his own ingredients and making his own eggnog with as much or as little fat as he wants.

  21. Who Knows? says

    I shall now set something on fire.

    I would suggest his own balls. Then, he would have something to be outraged over.

  22. says

    I echo Rob F’s point that no one is restricting Williamson’s ability to modify what he finds horrendous nor his ability to make his own.

    What’s ironic is that this very argumentation is often the same one used by the political right when it comes to so many things. “You don’t like it? No one’s stopping you from just doing it on your own!” This extends to Buffet asking for more taxation amongst his wealthy peers or to Christians who point out that you don’t have to partake in school prayers if you don’t want to.

    It’s almost like they don’t understand what the point of government is

  23. freebird says

    One thing that is lost on almost everyone when it comes to these kinds of regulations (and my job is regulatory compliance at a food manufacturing facility which is how I know this) is that FDA is not the one dreaming them up. Here’s how it works:

    Company X makes egg nog, and they make it with 6% milkfat and 1% egg yolk solids. Then they secure the shit out of their supply chain to make sure they can continue to receive huge deals on milk, cream and eggs for as long as possible. Then, they draft a letter to FDA stating that egg nog ought to have standards, standards that Company Y and Z (who also manufacture egg nog and are direct competitors) are conveniently not meeting. At that point FDA opens up the discussion to anyone wanting to contest or modify the standards. Company Y uses 6% milk fat, but writes a letter to get the definition of egg yolk solids changed to include mechanically separated and reconstituted egg paste, (or whatever the fuck they think they can get cheaply), and decide to comply. Company Z is a small company that cannot afford either change, and thus a competitor is eliminated.

    That is what the men at Lexington and Concord fought for – the ability for corporate America to eliminate competitors through the government, and then to convince people that the government is to blame for the lack of choices and transparency when purchasing products.

  24. ArtK says

    Like freebird, I monitor the regulatory efforts in a couple of sectors (pharmaceuticals and food) and the regulations are, by and large, written by the participants in the supply chain. I’m not quite as cynical about the motivations of the participants, but nearly so. There are plenty of times that the regulators will initiate something (due to public comment, or some well-publicized disaster) and will then consult with the producers, distributors and retailers. Who will then try to manipulate the regulations to their best advantage, but the original impulse doesn’t come from rent-seeking.

    The pharmaceutical pedigree regulations are being created because there are tons of counterfeits in the supply chain, threatening people’s health. The pharma manufacturers don’t really want to spend the money to comply, but they realize that it’s a brand protection issue as much as it is consumer safety. The same thing with the Produce Tracking Initiative — a few instances of salmonella and the industry has a vested interest in showing consumers that things are safe. And they can show that through conformance to industry-wide regulations.

    In an Objectivist utopia, where there were no regulations, consumers would fully inform themselves, buy what’s appropriate and the market would take care of the rest. The problem being that it’s impossible for a consumer to gather the relevant information, even if the producers were willing (ha ha) to provide that information. Labeling regulations (and safety rules and all the rest) give us a short-hand way of gathering that information. If I buy something labeled “egg nog” then I have a reasonable idea of what it contains and under what conditions it was made. A fine compromise between reality and the (very) unreal ideal.

  25. mudskipper says

    If you want an eye-opening read, google “19th century food adulteration.” I suggest doing so after you have eaten, however.

  26. says

    This is what it takes to make a right winger freak out?

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past decade or so, it’s that absolutely anything done by someone they think of as an ideological opponent will make right wingers freak the fuck out. This is why I no longer recognize ‘but the right would go apeshit if we proposed/did whatever’: The Right will always go apeshit. It’s what they do. So just assume that they’ll go apeshit, ignore their tanrums, and keep on governing to the best of your ability past their obstructionism.

  27. lofgren says

    I dunno, I thought this was pretty funny. It sounds very much like a rant that one of my friends or I would deliver at a holiday party after a few hits of ‘nog.

  28. sosw says

    This problem is mitigated somewhat in Canada and Europe, because they irradiate their milk instead of pasteurizing it.

    Canada yes, Europe not so much, at least not anywhere I’ve bought milk. Perhaps in some countries, but I couldn’t find any based on a quick search (do you have a source?).

  29. dingojack says

    Barefootbree (#19) – so what you’re kinda saying is:

    Well I think it’s fine, building jumbo planes.
    Or taking a ride on a cosmic train.
    Switch on summer from a slot machine.
    Yes, get what you want to if you want, ’cause you can get anything.
    I know we’ve come a long way,
    We’re changing day to day,
    so tell me, where do the children play?

    Dingo
    ——–
    I hope Kevin sets up his ‘rural compound’ in the the South. Surely a healthy rural diet of collard greens, gravy and biscuits couldn’t hurt anyone? (or maybe not).

  30. tomh says

    heddle wrote:
    I want the government to protect me from things over which I have no control and can’t see–like heavy metals or botulism in my food–but not over what I knowingly chose to ingest, like sugary calories or fat.

    I disagree. The regulations on sodas and trans fats in New York City are a good start and should be adopted and expanded nationwide. When the data overwhelmingly indicate that certain behaviors substantially increase health risks, there should be restrictions put in place on such behaviors, for one simple reason. That is, that we all pay each other’s medical bills through Medicare, Medicaid and other taxpayer-financed health care programs. The NY regulations will undoubtedly improve New Yorkers’ health and save taxpayers huge amounts of money in years to come.

  31. magistramarla says

    Tubi @ #4
    Eggnog is great, especially with rum or bourbon!
    I also agree with Ben @ #5 – Alton Brown does a wonderful job of explaining why we have food regulation.
    And his recipes for homemade eggnog rock!

  32. Michael Heath says

    tomh writes:

    The regulations on sodas and trans fats in New York City are a good start and should be adopted and expanded nationwide. When the data overwhelmingly indicate that certain behaviors substantially increase health risks, there should be restrictions put in place on such behaviors, for one simple reason.

    I’d prefer taxing the shit out of products that creates enormous negative externalities, like sugar but especially coal. I think that tax rate should be far more than the cost of the externality in order to serve as a lucrative tax revenue stream so we can cut taxes on items which depress GDP (capital gains tax, taxes on certain types of income.

    Of course such punitive taxation would eventually effectively eradicate the item being taxed as people moved to less costly goods and services. So to maintain that revenue stream, we’d have to find the next most abhorrent good or service creating a negative revenue stream. But we wouldn’t have to tax the shit out of that next item, but instead (shit – X). That’s given the marginal growth from eradicating an item which creates negative externalities, so we don’t the same taxation rate for a given level of GDP since GDP grew, coupled to the fact the next externality is smaller than the one we just eradicated.

    The most important component noted here is the change to GDP as the market drives people away from those goods and services which put an undue burden on others.

  33. dingojack says

    Egg nog? Seriously?
    Are Americans too lazy to even cook their scrambled eggs/ omelettes now?
    (Give me a cold.crisp beer any christmas). ;)
    Dingo

  34. khms says

    Of course such punitive taxation would eventually effectively eradicate the item being taxed as people moved to less costly goods and services.

    As an example for this, I’ll point to the German car fuel prices … oh wait.

  35. says

    …the regulations are, by and large, written by the participants in the supply chain.

    One possible reason for this is that regulatory agencies don’t have enough funding to hire the subject-matter experts they need to do the writing, or the auditors and enforcers they need to ensure compliance with whatever gets written.

    There’s a similar problem on the Congressional side of things, because the new Republican majority totally gutted all office and committee staff numbers in 1995, so none of our elected lawmakers have enough expert support to help them write decent laws independent of the lobbyists. Result? Too many laws are written by lobbyists, and mindlessly adopted by Congresspersons who don’t have the time or staff to examine the bills in any depth themselves.

  36. leftwingfox says

    @magistramarla:

    This is the first year I’ve tried bourbon in eggnog, thanks twice to AB. First for suggesting that combination, and second for his “City Ham” gingersnap cookie crust, which is the only reason I even had bourbon in the house to use. :)

    Definately not a bourbon fan, but god damn if a shot of Maker’s Mark doesn’t kick up an eggnog.

  37. Michael Heath says

    I wrote earlier:

    Of course such punitive taxation would eventually effectively eradicate the item being taxed as people moved to less costly goods and services.

    khms responds:

    As an example for this, I’ll point to the German car fuel prices … oh wait.

    No, because either the market has no competing product, yet, which would eradicate the demand for vehicle gasoline or German’s car fuel prices aren’t as cost-prohibitive relative to competing products as you think. My point still stands.

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