Wednesday’s Washington Post featured an Ezra Klein column in the FOOD section of the paper (right next to a story on bouillon, no less)! I love it, because it’s still mostly about budget and fiscal policy (as Ezra usually writes/blogs about), but he brings up the issue of the dietary habits of Americans and how if we really want to save on health costs, we really ought to try to change those (poor) habits (so as to reduce obesity). Like a point I had made awhile ago, Ezra argues that this is about encouraging “lifestyle” changes and that it’s not clear that Americans want government to get so involved, or that government alone could make poor diet and obesity as “uncool” as it needs to be to really bring about change. But Ezra’s able to name-drop and write a column in the Food section of the Post because Ezra got a personal tour of the White House farmers market from Obama Administration budget adviser (and general VIP) Ezekiel Emanuel (pictured below). (An August interview between Ezra and Ezekiel–doesn’t that have a nice ring to it–on health care reform is here.)
But from Wednesday’s Food column (emphasis added):
Ezekiel Emanuel — older brother to not only Rahm but also Hollywood superagent Ari — is sometimes called the nicest Emanuel brother. And he certainly seems it as he browses through artisanal jam on a warm Thursday afternoon in October.
Think Rahm eats artisanal jam?
Ezekiel Emanuel doesn’t get a lot of time for shopping, though. He spends his days, and a good chunk of his nights, holed up in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, where he serves as health-care policy adviser to Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, applying his long experience as an oncologist and bioethicist to health-care reform. Today, however, he’s showing me around the White House farmers market, which he helped start in the few moments he’s had to stop worrying about health care and start worrying about, well, health…
[W]hen it comes to visible symbols of the government’s engagement with one of the primary inputs into our health — what we eat — all we have is a farmers market that was started with White House involvement.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. There was money for prevention and wellness programs in the economic stimulus program enacted in February. There are myriad programs — some good, some bad — at the Department of Agriculture. Michelle Obama and her staff have been aggressively engaged with food policy. And there is, of course, the much-publicized White House vegetable garden. But the issue here is not so much the level of engagement as it is the points of entry. The government really doesn’t know what its role should be when it comes to how Americans eat. It knows that it can’t afford Medicare and Medicaid if the rise in such diet-related conditions as diabetes, heart disease and cancer doesn’t level off. But what does that imply? Should Peter Orszag publish a cookbook? Should Emanuel have a cooking show? Should fruits and vegetables be heavily subsidized? Soda taxed? The head of Hardee’s executed?
And Ezra brings up the lessons from the successful anti-smoking campaigns of the 1970s-80s (recall the Brooke Shields PSA campaign I pictured in my blog post):
“My own view,” says Emanuel, “is we know there are large parts of health that are primarily best approached as a public-health issue and not as a doctor-patient issue. Nutrition, wellness, exercise and smoking, for instance. But lifestyle change is hard to accomplish. What smoking showed is it’s not a single thing. It changed from being socially acceptable and doctors would recommend it in the ’50s to being scorned and barred indoors.“