Time to peel back the oniony layers of the food industry according to free-market principles. 

Our mission: to understand the market distortions contributing to poor health in America. By understanding them, we can explore market-oriented reforms that champion consumer choice, voluntary exchange, and an approach that trusts individuals to make informed decisions for their well-being.

Why did the fallen grape stop in the middle of the aisle? Because it ran out of juice! 

I josh … but this Josh is also deadly serious about the way certain ingredients and the government influence they rely on impact our food choices. I’ve found my diet is directly correlated to how I feel mentally and physically. And when I eliminated junk food, fast food, and heavily processed foods, I found that my health became manageable.

So let’s start our journey in the colorful, though sometimes perplexing, world of supermarkets. Walk down almost any aisle, and you’ll encounter high-fructose corn syrup. We know it’s bad for us … but do we know who the villain is? Government handouts to the corn industry. Generous subsidies by Congress enable the widespread use of high-fructose corn syrup, an artificial sweetener, in an array of products, contributing to the overconsumption of sugary foods. 

More specifically, head to the alcohol aisle. Subsidized corn pops up in mass-produced alcoholic beverages. Their affordability is a direct result of the government’s financial support to the corn industry. Beer, for example, becomes significantly cheaper than it would be on a fair economic playing field.

For a deep dive on government subsidies in the food industry, see our related video:

Let’s hit the pet food aisle next. The formulations of pet food, influenced by the economics of subsidized ingredients, rely extensively on corn-based fillers. Corn is used intentionally to fatten the animals we eat, so it’s no coincidence that it’s inadvertently contributing to many health challenges our pets face.

Speaking of the animals we eat, let’s check out the meat freezer. Government subsidies on corn production pervade the feeds provided for livestock. The corn-heavy feeds used in industrial-scale livestock farming often come at the cost of nutritional richness, as livestock fed on corn-dominant diets are less healthy overall, and commonly experience weight gain and issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

Moving on, visualize cereal aisles dominated by boxes adorned with cartoon characters who sing catchy jingles in TV ads. 

Many cereal brands — which use inflammatory, blood-sugar-spiking wheat as their first ingredient — are beneficiaries of agricultural subsidies, too. Breakfast cereals are badly lacking in nutritional value, and often high in added sugar (from high-fructose corn syrup, of course).

The same forces are at play in the “junk food” aisle. Manufacturers — again, using corn and wheat, but also soybeans (in the form of inflammatory soybean oil, which many fried foods are fried in) — transform concoctions of additives and preservatives, that are made cheaper and more abundant by government subsidies, into enticing snacks. 

Because subsidies fuel overproduction, corn, wheat, and soy products become artificially cheaper due to distorted demand and increased supply. This phenomenon shapes the composition of popular snacks like Doritos (corn paste fried in soybean oil), sugary drinks such as Gatorade and Mountain Dew (which rely on high-fructose corn syrup), and various other processed foods.

Overall, subsidies distort market conditions to favor certain ingredients (and the wealthy, well-connected manufacturers of those ingredients). In eliminating these distortions, I believe a more competitive food market — one with reduced or eliminated subsidies — would incentivize businesses to better respond to demand for healthier alternatives. 

In particular, as we learn more about the human body, we should reduce subsidies for ingredients linked to health concerns, such as corn, wheat, and soy. 

Allowing market forces to guide production is likely to facilitate a shift away from corn and toward more nutritious options; instead of spending resources competing for government handouts, companies would have to produce things their customers want. 

True, some people will continue to want corn-fed beef, sugary cereal, and Oreos deep-fried in soybean oil. Paradoxically, many of the most in-demand foods are the least healthy.

But I’m optimistic that the trend toward organic, grass-fed, simple, foods and ingredients will keep growing. Community initiatives, such as educational campaigns and local farmers’ markets, reinforce a culture of wellness — and, crucially, it’s from the ground up. They can pave the way for a food market where informed consumers and responsive businesses shape a healthier future.

Plus, political reforms that prioritize consumer choice, not lobbyist pull, and voluntary exchanges instead of governmental “protectionism” in the form of subsidies, can help us move toward a food market where individuals are empowered to make informed choices for their own well-being.

Let’s press forward — not all shriveled, like that stranded grape in the middle of the aisle, but fresh, vibrant, and full of juice.

Are you a student interested in getting involved in pro-liberty activism? By applying to join Students For Liberty’s Local Coordinator Program, you can be supported in promoting the ideas of liberty while also developing your skills and meeting many like-minded students from across the world. Click on the button below to find out more and get involved!

Are you looking for an opportunity to gain new insights about the ideas of liberty and network with like-minded individuals? Students For Liberty’s upcoming LibertyCon International, held in Washington, D.C., on February 2-4, 2024, is an event you won’t want to miss!

LibertyCon International offers an opportunity to engage with top experts, scholars, and entrepreneurs from a variety of fields while providing a platform for attendees to connect with others who are dedicated to advancing pro-liberty ideas and creating a freer future.

Click the button below to sign up for updates and secure your spot at this exciting event. We can’t wait to see you there!

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.