The global plague of obesity and the plague caused by SARS-CoV-2 were destined to form a mutual aid society, which is a polite way of saying, a deadly partnership. By combining forces, they can do so much more damage. The virus finds that overweight humans are easy pickings. Obesity finds that people immobilized and demoralized by quarantine conditions are soft targets. Of course, the pandemic has reached into every corner of everyone’s life. Because everyone eats, or tries to, on a daily basis, food is an area where the intrusion is nearly inescapable.
Some people have a very hard time getting enough to eat, and are in no position to be fussy. A growling stomach does not stop to read the label for calorie and nutrient information. Some know very well what they should be eating and feeding to their families. They also have to weigh the benefit of going to the grocery store against the risk of bringing home something they didn’t intend to, like a batch of deadly organisms.
School food programs are in shambles. People with eating disorders are going off the deep end. People who never had eating disorders before are developing them. Parents are subjected to whining by their kids who have been deprived of so many of life’s joys. Giving in to the demand for treats can seem like a good idea. With our minds fully occupied by problems we can do very little about, the Dreadful Duo has engaged in another team effort. Distracted by current events, we forget to pay attention to some of the nuances, like government policies that affect many millions of lives, and who makes them.
The long con
In 2009, the president made an executive order to keep lobbyists from being hired by any government agency they had lobbied in the last two years. The next president changed that, wrote Alex Kotch, by…
[…] allowing lobbyists to join agencies they recently lobbied so long as they recused themselves from working on specific issues on which they had lobbied within the previous two years.
If there is a former lobbyist whom some federal bureaucracy really, really wants to hire, even that weak barrier can be swept aside with a magical piece of paper called a waiver. Actually, everybody can pretty much ignore all the rules, and one of the reasons they get away with it is because COVID-19 soaks up a lot of the available mental bandwidth right now.
One of those ethics waivers was drawn up in 2017 to benefit one Kailee Tkacz, director of food policy for the Corn Refiners Association, who had worked for the industry right up until she left for a government post. It’s not that Tkacz was inexperienced, having previously also lobbied for the National Grocers Association and the Snack Food Association. It’s just that she was experienced in the wrong things. As a tool of Big Food, she had hobnobbed with government employees from both houses of Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Then, she became one of them — an official whose job is to help write the Dietary Guidelines.
Why is it a problem that Ms. Tkacz went to work for the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, with a paycheck 40% higher than other government employees with the same job description, and 76% higher than the average government worker at Agriculture? We don’t know, but could it have something to do with her still knowing all those nice people in the food industry? Next time, we look into why this might not be the best practice.
Your responses and feedback are welcome!