I recently read a bumper sticker that boasted: "Vegetarianism is an Affordable Health Plan." Wouldn't that be nice? Well, while I can certainly empathize with the desire to communicate the connection between a plant-based dietary system and well-being, I think this particular bumper sticker communicates a more disturbing message about class, health and privatization.
First, there is the question of affordability. In this respect the sticker ignores the existence of food insecurity and hunger. If people in poverty could afford food then they wouldn't go hungry or otherwise be food insecure. That is, for people who are targets of food insecurity or hunger, any food is by definition unaffordable. Alas, this means for too many people healthful, plant-based, whole foods are in fact beyond what they can afford, which in turn has adverse health effects.
Second, while I'll admit that many of our societies health problems can be traced back to consuming what comes from the bodies of other animals, no dietary system, even one with as broad health benefits as vegetarianism, can be analogous with a comprehensive health plan. There are a great many health concerns that have no relation to diet.
Finally, the bumper sticker reinforces an extreme version of the view that a health plan is a private issue. The health needs are reduced to the private space of the shopping cart, kitchen or dinner table. This in turn suggests an unquestioned acceptance of corporate driven privatization.
In thinking about the above points I'm reminded that:
- Healthful, plant-based, whole foods need to be affordable and accessible to everyone, specifically and especially those who are struggling with food insecurity or hunger.
- A healthy diet is no replacement for a much needed comprehensive health plan, which, like the above, should be affordable and accessible to everyone.
- Mobilization is needed to resist the persistent privatization of health in order to ensure that health care is both universal and comprehensive.