Picture of Saifedean sitting next to The Fiat Standard hardcover

Chapter 9: Fiat Food

Money, being a part of every economic transaction, has a pervasive effect on most aspects of life. The mechanics of fiat money outlined in the first section of this book create several distortions significant to food markets. This chapter focuses on examining two particular distortions: how fiat’s incentives for raising time preference impact farmland production and food consumption choices; and how fiat government financing facilitates an activist government role in the food market through farm policy, food subsidies, and dietary guidelines. The next section examines the most prevalent foods promoted by fiat, and the health impacts they have had. The chapter concludes with a discussion of non-fiat food. What would modern food and food science have looked like without the century of fiat? The fascinating work of Weston Price explains the meat of the matter.

Fiat farms

The closing of the gold exchange window in 1971, discussed in Chapter 2, had relieved the US government from the restraint of having to redeem its fiat in physical gold, and thus allowed it a larger margin of inflationary expansion. The inevitable result of the expansion in the quantity of money was the rise in the prices of goods and services, which was to be the hallmark of the world economy in the 1970s. As runaway inflation ensued, the US government did what every inflationist government in history did, and blamed it on a multitude of factors (the Arab oil embargo, evil speculators on the international capital markets, natural resources reaching their limits, etc…) none of which was the inflationary monetary policy of the government itself.

Each expansion of government credit and spending develops a group dependent on it, which uses its political influence to perpetuate the spending, and makes the job of any politician wanting to reverse it very difficult. The path to success in fiat politics lies in abusing the printing press, not reigning it in. As food prices became the pressing political question of the day, there was little chance of reigning the rise through the reversal of the inflationary policies which had led to the abandoning of the gold exchange window in the first place. Instead, the path of centrally-planning the food market was chosen, with disastrous consequences that continue to unfold to this day.

President Nixon appointed Earl Butz, an agronomist who sat on the boards of various agribusiness companies, as secretary of the US Department of Agriculture. Butz’s stated goal was to bring food prices down, and his methods were brutally direct: “get big or get out” he told farmers, as low-interest rates flooded farmers with capital to intensify their productivity. This was a boon to large-scale producers, and the death-knell for small farmers. It killed small-scale agriculture and forced small farmers to sell their plots to large corporations, consolidating the growth of industrial food production which would in due time destroy America’s soil and its people’s health. While the increased production did lead to lower prices, they came at the expense of the nutritional content of the foods and the quality of the soil.

The large application of industrial machinery can bring down the price of industrial foods, and that was what Butz sought. Mass production leads to an increase in the size and quantity of the food and its sugar content, but it is much harder to increase its nutrient content, as the soil gets depleted of nutrients from repetitive intensive monocropping, requiring ever-larger quantities of artificial fertilizer to replenish it.

Along with the degradation of the quality of foods recommended by the government has come the degradation of the quality of food included in government’s measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, an invalid mathematical measure which governments nonetheless track meticulously. The CPI pretends to measure and track across time the price of the average basket of consumer goods purchased by the average household. By tracking the price changes of this basket, government statisticians believe they can get a good sense of inflation levels. The only way to agree is to have no understanding of how math works.

As prices of highly nutritious foods rise, people are inevitably forced to replace them with cheaper alternatives. As the cheaper foods become a more prevalent part of the basket of goods, the effect of inflation is understated. To illustrate the point: imagine you earn $10 a day and spend them all on eating a delicious ribeye steak that gives you all the nutrients you need for the day. In this simple (and, many would argue, optimal) consumer basket of goods, the CPI is $10. Now imagine one day hyperinflation strikes the economy and the price of your ribeye increases to $100 while your daily wage remains $10. What happens to the price of your basket of goods? It cannot rise tenfold because you cannot afford the $100 ribeye. Instead you make do with the chemical shitstorm that is a soy-burger for $10. The CPI, magically, shows zero inflation. No matter what happens with monetary inflation, the CPI is destined to lag behind as a measure because it is based on consumer spending, which itself is determined by prices. Price rises do not elicit equivalent increases in consumer spending, they bring about reductions in quality of consumed goods. The change in the cost of living cannot be reflected in the price of the average basket of goods because the goods comprising that basket are in turn determined by the change in the price. This is how we can understand that prices continue to rise while the CPI registers at the politically-optimal 2-3%/year level. If you are happy to substitute industrial waste sludge for ribeyes, you will not experience much inflation!

This move towards substituting industrial sludge for food has helped the US government understate and downplay the extent of the destruction in the value of the US dollar in statistical accounts like the Consumer Price Index (CPI). By simply subsidizing the production of the cheapest foods and recommending them to Americans as the optimal components of their diet the extent of price rises, and currency debasement is reduced. A closer look at the historical trend of the US government’s suggested dietary guidelines since the 1970s shows a continuous decline in the recommendation of meat, and an increase in the recommendations of grains, pulses, and various other nutritionally poor foods that benefit from industrial economies of scale.

The industrialization of farming has created large conglomerates with significant political clout that have become a powerful part of the political landscape in the US, and they have continued to successfully lobby for increasing subsidies and for favorable dietary guidelines.

Fiat diets

The second link between nutrition and monetary economics pertains to the role that governments play in the production of food and the impact of their influential dietary guidelines. As discussed extensively in Chapter 7 of The Bitcoin Standard, the move from the gold standard to government money was pivotal in ending the classical liberal era of government and initiating the move toward more powerful government control over ever-increasing facets of an individual’s life. It is hard to believe it but in la belle epoque, the most transformative period of human history, governments generally did not issue passports, interfere in food production, ban people from consuming specific substances, or engage in endless military conflict financed by currency debasement.

One of the many aspects of private individual life that governments have sought to manage for their citizens since the inception of government money is food. The rise of the modern nanny state, which role-plays as caretaker of its citizens and attempts to provide all the guidance they need to live their lives, could not have been possible under the gold standard simply because governments who start making centralized decisions for individual problems would quickly cause more economic harm than good, and run out of hard money to keep financing their operation. Easy government money on the other hand, allows for government mistakes to accumulate and add up significantly before economic reality sets in through the destruction of the currency, which generally takes much longer. It is thus no coincidence that the US government began to issue dietary guidelines shortly after the Federal Reserve’s creation had begun turning it into the nation’s iron-fisted nanny. The first such guideline, focused on children, was issued in 1916, and the next year they issued a general guideline.

The short-comings of centrally-planning economic decisions have been thoroughly detailed by Mises and the Austrian school, primarily in the economic context, but the logic is equally applicable to nutrition decisions. Mises explained that what coordinates economic production, and what allows for the division of labor, is the ability of individuals to perform economic calculation over their own property. When the individual can weigh the costs and benefits of different courses of action they might undertake, according to their own preferences, they are able to decide the most productive course of action to meet their own ends. On the other hand, when decisions for the use of economic resources are taken by people who do not own them, there is no possibility of accurate calculation of the real alternatives and opportunity costs, particularly as they pertain to the preferences of the individuals utilizing and benefiting from the resources.

Humans, like all animals, have an instinct for eating, as anyone who has seen a baby approach food will know. Humans have developed traditions and cultures around food for thousands of years which help people know what to eat, and individuals can experiment themselves and study the work of others to decide what to eat to meet their goals. But in the century of fiat-powered omnipotent government, even the decision of eating is increasingly influenced by the choices of the government.

Government agents making decisions about food subsidies and dietary and medical guidelines are, like the economic central planners Mises critiqued, not making the decisions purely from the perspective of every individual eating in the country. They are, after all, employees with careers heavily influenced by the government fiat that pay their salary. It is only natural that their supposedly scientific decisions would be influenced by political and economic interests.

Arguably, there have been three main driving forces for government dietary guidelines: governments seeking to promote cheap industrial food substitutes as if they are food, a nineteenth century movement that sought to massively reduce meat consumption for religious reasons, and industrial agricultural interests trying to increase demand for the high-margin nutrient-lite industrial sludge they wanted to convince the world could pass for food.

In The Great Inflation, Robert Samuelson recounts the story of how desperately President Nixon had attempted to fight rising prices in many economic goods. Of the many hare-brained and economically destructive ideas he had, what was most striking was that he called the Surgeon General of the US in the spring of 1966 to issue a warning against the consumption of eggs when their prices had risen.

For some theological reasons I claim no understanding of, the Seventh Day Adventist church has for a century and a half been on a moral crusade against meat. Ellen G White, one of the founders of the church, had “visions” of the evils of meat-eating, and preached endlessly against it (while still eating meat secretly, a very common phenomenon among anti-meat zealots until today). There is, of course, nothing ethically objectionable about religious groups following whatever dietary visions they prefer, but the problems arise when they seek to impose those visions on others. Under a fiat standard, influencing the political process allows for exercising enormous influence on national agricultural and dietary policies. Seventh Day Adventists are generally influential members of American society with significant political clout and many successful individuals in positions of power and authority.

The Soy Information Center proudly proclaims on its website:

No single group in America has done more to pioneer the use of soyfoods than the Seventh-day Adventists, who advocate a healthful vegetarian diet. Their great contribution has been made both by individuals (such as Dr. J.H. Kellogg, Dr. Harry W. Miller, T.A. Van Gundy, Jethro Kloss, Dorothea Van Gundy Jones, Philip Chen) and by soyfoods-producing companies (including La Sierra Foods, Madison Foods, Loma Linda Foods, and Worthington Foods). All of their work can be traced back to the influence of one remarkable woman, Ellen G. White.

Another member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Lenna Cooper, went on to become one of the founders of the American Dietetics Association, an organization which to this day holds significant influence over government diet policy, and more importantly, is the body responsible for licensing practicing dietitians. In other words, anyone caught handing out dietary advice without a license from the ADA could find themselves thrown into jail and/or financially ruined. One cannot overstate the influence that such a catastrophic policy has had: a government-enforced monopoly granted to a religiously motivated agenda (based on very little science) to determine what is permissible diet advice has completely distorted many generations’ understanding of what healthy food is. What’s even worse is that the ADA is responsible for formulating the dietary guidelines taught at most nutrition and medical schools worldwide, meaning it has for a century shaped the way nutritionists and doctors (mis)understand nutrition. The astonishing consequence is that the vast majority of people, nutritionists, and doctors today think that animal fat is harmful, while grains are healthy, necessary, and safe!

The reader should not be surprised that the ADA, like all other main institutions of progressive government control of the economy and citizens, was established in 1917, around the same time as the Federal Reserve. Another organization, The Adventist Health System, has been responsible for producing decades’ worth of shoddy “research” used by advocates of industrial agriculture and meat reduction to push their religious visions on a species that demonstrably can only thrive by eating animal proteins and fatty acids.

The messianic anti-meat message might have been drowned out in a sane world, but it was highly palatable to the agricultural industrial complex. The crops which were to replace meat in the messianic visions of the Adventists were easy to produce cheaply at scale. It was a match made in heaven. Agroindustry would profit enormously from producing these cheap crops, governments would benefit from understating the extent of inflation as citizens replace nutritious meat with cheap sludge, and the Adventists’ crusade against meat would provide the mystic romantic vision that would make this mass poisoning appear as if it were a spiritual step forward for humanity.

The confluence of interests around promoting industrial agriculture products is a great example of the ‘Bootleggers and Baptists’ nature of special interest politics, described by economist Bruce Yandle. While Baptist priests were evangelizing the evils of alcohol and priming the public to accept these restrictions, it was the alcohol bootleggers who lobbied and financed politicians to impose prohibition, as their profits from bootlegging would increase with the severity of the restrictions on alcohol sales. In so many matters of public policy, this pattern repeats: a sanctimonious quasi-religious moral crusade demands government policies whose most important consequence is to benefit special interest groups. The dynamic is self-sustaining and self-reinforcing, and does not even require collusion between the bootleggers and baptists, as both push in the same direction, help each other, and sustain  each other’s efforts.

With fiat inflation causing both the rising cost of nutrient-rich food and the increased power of government to meddle in dietary affairs, with a religious group attempting to commandeer government diet policy for its own anti-meat messianic vision, and with an increasingly powerful agricultural industrial complex able to shape government food policy, the dietary Overton window was shifted considerably over the past century to include a long list of toxic industrial materials advertised as food. It is entirely inconceivable that the consumption of these “foods” would have been as popular without the distortions afforded by fiat money.

By the end of 1970s, the United States government, and most of its international vassals were recommending the modern food pyramid. The heavily-subsidized grains of the agricultural industrial complex feature heavily in this pyramid, which recommends to use them as the base of the diet, with 6-11 servings a day, making it essentially a recipe for metabolic disease, obesity, diabetes, and a plethora of health problems which have become increasingly common in the intervening decades, to the point most people think of them as a normal part of life.

The ridiculous science behind this shift is discussed in more detail in the next chapter on Fiat Science. The next section will focus on listing the most damaging industrial substances that have been marketed as food by fiat.

Fiat foods

Industrialization has made it possible to use plant foods to mass produce substances which humans had never digested before. But just because something can be produced does not mean it should be eaten.

These are either drugs or inedible industrial products which have been foisted upon the world through a century of heavy propaganda and government policy, financed by fiat money.

1. Polyunsaturated and hydrogenated “vegetable” and seed oils

A century ago, the majority of fats that were consumed consisted of healthy animal fats like butter, ghee, tallow, lard, and schmaltz, with smaller quantities of olive and coconut oils. Today, the majority of fat consumption comes in the form of toxic heavily-processed industrial chemicals which are misleadingly referred to as “vegetable oils”, mainly soy, rapeseed, sunflower, and corn, as well as the abomination that is margarine. The diet change that would likely cause the largest improvement in a person’s health with the least effort is the substitution of these horrific industrial chemicals for healthy animal fats.

Most of these chemicals did not exist 100 years ago, and those that did were mainly deployed in industrial uses, such as lubricants, away from the digestive systems of human beings. As industrialization spread and the government-stoked hysteria against animal fats increased, these toxic chemicals have been promoted worldwide by governments, doctors, nutritionits, and their corporate sponsors as the healthy alternative. The spread of this sludge across the world, replacing all the traditional fats used for millennia is an astounding testament to the power of government propaganda hiding under the veneer of science. The late Dr. Mary Enig of the Weston Price Foundation had spent her life warning of the dangers of these chemicals, with very little attention. Here she lists the different kinds of fat available, while here she discusses their impact on health. These are extremely valuable reads I highly recommend.

2. Processed corn

In the 1970’s, and as government policy had pushed for the mass production of corn and made its price very cheap, there was a large surplus of corn crops looking for places to be used. This abundance of cheap corn led to the development of many creative ways to utilize it to benefit from its low price. The over-production of corn has become so excessive that the cheap inferior products of the corn plant are being deployed in a myriad of uses where other substances would be a far better option. From gasoline, to cow feed, sweeteners, and a myriad of industrial uses all deploy corn.

One of the most destructive uses of corn is the production of High Fructose Corn Syrup, which has replaced sugar as a sweetener in the US because of how cheap it is. In 1983 the FDA blessed this new substance with the classification of “Generally Recognized As Safe” and the floodgates to its utilization opened in a barely believable manner. Since the US has very high tariffs on sugar, the price of sugar in the US is usually double or triple the global price. While the US has very high subsidies to corn, the price of corn is generally lower in the US than the global average. Once a sweetener was made from corn, it became more profitable to use it for sweetening products than sugar, and since then, American candy, industrial food, and soft drinks has become almost universally full of HFCS, which is arguably even more harmful than regular sugar, on top of being nowhere near as appetizing or desirable. If you’ve ever wondered why candy and soft drinks taste much better everywhere on the planet than in the US, now you know why: the rest of the world uses sugar while the US uses its digestive systems and cars to consume the corn destroying its soil.

There are many problems with HFCS, but perhaps the most important is that it can only be metabolized in the liver, like toxic substances, and is responsible for causing a lot of liver damage worldwide.

3. Soy

Historically, soy was not an edible crop, used instead to fix nitrogen in the soil. The Chinese first figured out how to make it edible through extensive fermenting in products like tempeh, natto, and soy sauce. Famines and poverty later forced oriental populations to eat more of it, and it has arguably had a negative effect on the physical development of the populations that have depended on it for long.

Modern day soy products come from Soybean lecithin. The squeamish may want to skip this, but here is how the Weston Price Foundation described the process by which this abomination is prepared:

Soybean lecithin comes from sludge left after crude soy oil goes through a “degumming” process. It is a waste product containing solvents and pesticides and has a consistency ranging from a gummy fluid to a plastic solid. Before being bleached to a more appealing light yellow, the color of lecithin ranges from a dirty tan to reddish brown. The hexane extraction process commonly used in soybean oil manufacture today yields less lecithin than the older ethanol-benzol process, but produces a more marketable lecithin with better color, reduced odor and less bitter flavor.
Historian William Shurtleff reports that the expansion of the soybean crushing and soy oil refining industries in Europe after 1908 led to a problem disposing the increasing amounts of fermenting, foul-smelling sludge. German companies then decided to vacuum dry the sludge, patent the process and sell it as “soybean lecithin.” Scientists hired to find some use for the substance cooked up more than a thousand new uses by 1939.

While there are many great uses of soy in industry, its use in food has largely been an unmitigated disaster as this extensive discussion by The Weston Price Foundation explains. The overwhelming evidence for the destructive nature of soy foods is no match for the motivated reasoning of special interests, and the dietary guidelines continue to push such toxic plant matter as a substitute for meat.

4. Low fat foods

The notion that animal fats are harmful has spurred the creation of many substitutes to fatty foods that contain low or no fat. Without delicious animal fat, these products all become tasteless and unpalatable, and the best way to make them palatable was to introduce sugars. As a result of trying to avoid fat because of government hysteria discussed below, people have become very hungry and needing to binge on endless doses of sugary snacks all day, with lots of chemicals and artificial barely edible compounds thrown in. As the consumption of animal fat declines, the consumption of sweeteners, particularly HFCS, has increased to substitute for it. But the addictive nature of these substitutes means that people deprived of wholesome satiating animal fats end up being constantly hungry and likely to resort to eating large quantities of the cheap industrial substitutes.

One of the most destructive battles of the crusade against saturated fats has been the popularization of fat-free skim milk. In the early twentieth century, American farmers used the leftover from the production of butter to fatten their pigs. Combining the milk with corn would provide the quickest way for fattening pigs. Through the magic of the fiat scientific process, corn with skimmed milk ended up being the human breakfast recommended and promoted and subsidized by fiat authorities, with the same fattening result. John Kellogg, another devout Seventh Day Adventist and follower of Ellen White, viewed sex and masturbation as sinful, and his idea of a healthy diet was one that would stifle the sex drive. He was correct and astoundingly successful in marketing his favorite breakfast of industrial waste to billions worldwide.

5. Refined flour and sugar

Historically, whole grain flour and natural sugars have been consumed for thousands of years. Whole grain flour, being produced from the whole grain, would contain the germ and bran, which contain all the nutrients in the wheat. As Weston Price documented, elaborate rituals existed for preparing whole wheat and it was eaten with ample animal fat. Industrialization changed things drastically for these two substances, effectively turning them into highly addictive drugs. Wikipedia explains:

An important problem of the industrial revolution was the preservation of flour. Transportation distances and a relatively slow distribution system collided with natural shelf life. The reason for the limited shelf life is the fatty acids of the germ, which react from the moment they are exposed to oxygen. This occurs when grain is milled; the fatty acids oxidize and flour starts to become rancid. Depending on climate and grain quality, this process takes six to nine months. In the late 19th century, this process was too short for an industrial production and distribution cycle. As vitamins, micronutrients and amino acids were completely or relatively unknown in the late 19th century, removing the germ was an effective solution. Without the germ, flour cannot become rancid. Degermed flour became standard. Degermation started in densely populated areas and took approximately one generation to reach the countryside. Heat-processed flour is flour where the germ is first separated from the endosperm and bran, then processed with steam, dry heat or microwave and blended into flour again.

In other words, industrialization solved the problem of flour perishing and ruining by industrially removing the nutrients from it, effectively turning it into a highly addictive drug.

Sugar, on the other hand, had existed naturally in many foods, but in its pure form was rare and expensive, since its processing required large amounts of energy, and its production was almost universally done by slaves, because few would choose to work that exhausting job of their own volition. As industrialization and capital accumulation allowed for the replacement of slave labor with heavy machinery, people were able to produce sugar in a pure white form, free of all the molasses and nutrients that accompany it, and at a much lower cost.

Refined sugar and flour can be better understood as drugs, not food. Sugar contains no essential nutrients, and flour only contains very little. The pleasure that people get from consuming them is the pleasure you get from a hit of an addictive substance; they do not offer nutrition to the body. In Bright Line Eating, Susan Thompson explains how the refining of sugar and flour is similar to the refining process that has made cocaine and heroin such highly addictive substances. Whereas chewing on coca leaves or eating poppy plants will give someone a small high and little energy kick, it is nowhere near as addictive as consuming the purified cocaine and heroin drugs, as evidenced by the fact that many cultures had consumed these plants for thousands of years with little adverse effects, incomparable to the damage they do to modern consumers of these substances. The industrial processing of these plants into their modern highly potent drug form has made them extremely addictive, because it allows the person consuming them to ingest large quantities of the pure essence of the plant without any of the rest of the plant matter that comes with it. The high is magnified as is the withdrawal that follows it and the desire for more. Thompson makes a compelling case that the processing of these drugs is very similar to the processing of sugar and flour in how addictive it makes them. She even cites studies that show that sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine.

The Harvest of Fiat

Seed oils and soy products have legitimate industrial uses, corn, soy, and low-fat milk are passable cattle feed, though not as good as letting cattle graze. Processed flour and sugar can be used as recreational drugs in tiny quantities, but none of these products have a place in a human diet, and must be avoided for a human to thrive and be healthy. Yet as technology and science continue to advance and make them cheaper, and government subsidies to them increase, we find people consuming ever-increasing barely believable quantities of them. Faster and more powerful machines can reduce the cost of producing these materials very significantly, and as industrial technology has advanced producing these foods has become less and less expensive.

There is little that industrialization can do to improve the cost of producing nutritious red meat which needs to grow by walking on large areas of land, grazing, and getting sun, and which also perishes quickly. But the fiat foods of mono-crop agriculture have a stable shelf-life allowing them to remain on in storage and display for years, allowing them to spread far and wide. Worse, their shelf-stability allows them to be manufactured into highly-processed foods that are engineered to be highly palatable and addictive. The universal ubiquity of these cheap, heavily-subsidized, highly-palatable and toxic foods has been an unmitigated disaster for the health of the human race.

As time preference increases in the fiat era, individual decision-making around food would also be expected to lead to a larger amount of food consumption to be aimed at producing satisfaction in the present.

Another way of understanding the impact of rising time preference is in the decision-making of individuals when it comes to food choices. As depreciating money drives people to prioritize the present, they are more likely to indulge in foods that feel good in the moment at the expense of their health in the future. The shift toward short-term orientation in decision-making would invariably favor more consumption of the junk foods mentioned above. Modern fiat medicine is highly unlikely to mention the obvious dietary drivers of modern diseases, as prevention makes for bad business. While the prevalent religious faith in the power of modern medicine to correct all health problems further encourages individuals to believe industrial waste has no consequences.

These policies have been extremely effective in altering Americans’ food choices. In the years between 1970 and 2014, Americans’ per capita consumption of red meat declined by 28%, whole milk by 79%, eggs by 13%, animal fats by 27%, and butter by 9%. By contrast, the consumption of toxic “vegetable” oils increased by 87%, and grains increased by 28%. Showing exemplary compliance with government guidelines, Americans have also significantly increased their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, which is an important indicator that the driver of obesity is not the absence of vegetables and fruits, but the decline in meat consumption, particularly red meat. Overall meat consumption stayed relatively constant, rising by 2%, but that happened by substituting inferior cheap mass produced poultry for highly nutritious essential red meat. Overall, Americans’ calories from animal foods declined by 21%, while calories from plant foods increased by 14%.

The impacts of this dietary transition on Americans’ health has been disastrous. Obesity has been increasing steadily since the 1970s, along with many chronic diseases which modern nutrition science and its corporate sponsors has done everything to pretend are unrelated to diet.

One cannot find a more apt representation of the impact of inflation and unsound money: the paper wealth of Americans is increasing, while the statistics show that their quality of life is going up. In reality however, the quality of their food is degrading because the quantity of nutrients they consume is declining, and their mental and physical health are deteriorating. Instead of nutrients, Americans are increasingly subsisting on drugs and toxic industrial crops. The ever-growing variety and quantity of flavored industrial sludge filling Americans’ refrigerators cannot be claimed to be real food, and it is no substitute for it. Americans’ increasing obesity is not a sign of affluence, but a symptom of deprivation. The level of spending and income in America may be increasing according to government statistics, but if Americans work longer hours than they ever did and their basic nutrition is deteriorating, there must be something seriously wrong with the money they are using, both as a store and measure of value. The Faustian bargain of fiat money did not deliver the free lunch its cheerleaders promised, but instead brought on industrial concoctions of soy and high fructose corn syrup, light on nutrients, high on empty calories, and extremely costly to the health and well-being of its consumers. The ever-increasing cost of medication and healthcare cannot be understood without reference to the deterioration of health, diet, and soil, and the economic and nutritional system that have promoted this calamity.

The modern world suffers from a crisis of obesity that’s unprecedented in human history. Never before have so many people been so overweight. Modernity’s tragically self-flattering misunderstanding of this crisis is to cast it as a crisis of abundance: it is a result of our affluence that our biggest problem is obesity rather than starvation. The flawed paradigm of nutrition—another field of academic inquiry thoroughly disfigured by government funding and direction—emphasizes the importance of obtaining a necessary quantity of calories, and that the best way to secure the needed calories is by eating a diverse and “balanced” diet that includes hefty portions of grains. Animal meat and fat are viewed as harmful and best consumed in moderation, if at all. From this perspective, obesity occurs when too many calories are consumed, and malnourishment occurs when too few calories are consumed. This view is as overly simplistic as ridiculous Keynesian textbooks’ insistence that the state of the economy is primarily determined by the level of aggregate spending, with too much spending being the cause for inflation, and too little spend the cause for unemployment which was discussed thoroughly in The Bitcoin Standard.

In reality, nutrition is about far more than caloric intake, it’s about securing sufficient quantities of essential nutrients for the body, which come in four categories: proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals. The fats are primarily used for providing energy for the body, the proteins for building and rebuilding the human body and its tissues, and the vitamins and minerals are necessary for various vital processes that take place in the body. The other major food group, carbohydrates, is not essential to the human body but can be utilized to provide energy. In the absence of essential nutrients, the human body begins to suffer from deterioration and negative consequences manifesting in diseases. In particular, the absence of animal proteins and fatty acids causes the body to enter into starvation mode: energy expenditure is reduced, manifesting in physical and mental lethargy and inactivity, and the body begins to convert its intake of carbohydrates into fatty acid deposits for storage for future use (in other words, causing obesity). Rather than a sign of affluence and overfeeding, obesity is actually a sign of malnutrition. The ability to digest plants and convert them into stores of fatty acids is an extremely useful evolutionary strategy for dealing with hunger in the short-run, but when the deprivation of essential nutrients becomes a lifestyle, the fat storage turns into the debilitating sickness of obesity. Rather than being a sign of affluence and overfeeding, obesity is an unmistakable sign of malnourishment and nutritional poverty.

Sound Food

Many people worldwide, including me, have improved their health immeasurably by simply avoiding all fiat foods entirely. The exact diet plans people follow may differ, but the hallmark of successful diets is the elimination of processed fiat foods. As the internet has allowed people to share their experiences outside of the fiat scientific establishment’s dogmas, what emerges from real human experience is markedly different from what is advertised by fiat authorities. While nutrition departments, medical schools and government guidelines continue to rationalize the consumption of toxic industrial sludge under the guise of “balance”, online communities have helped millions worldwide regain their health by guiding them to avoiding these fiat foods and ignoring the fiat recommendations.

The state of nutrition research is analogous to the state of economic research: a fiat-financed mainstream heavily invested in arriving at the conclusions conducive to its fiat financing. Economics has its Austrian alternatives such as Mises, and nutrition has some equivalents. As the field has descended to the status of marketing of junk food, as will be discussed in the next chapter, some renegades have for long attempted to counter the prevailing narrative. John Yudkin’s heroic but doomed struggle against sugar is particularly noteworthy. But perhaps the most comprehensive framework for studying nutrition comes from the work of Weston Price, a Canadian dentist working a century ago.

Price is mainly known today as both a dentist and a pioneer in the discovery and analysis of several vitamins, but his magnum opus, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is largely ignored by the mainstream of academia and nutrition science, as his conclusions fly against the politically correct dogma taught in medical and nutrition schools in modern universities. Price provides a rigorous and clean exploration of the horrible damages caused by modern industrial foods whose producers are the main benefactors of nutrition schools everywhere today. On top of being methodologically thorough and well-documented, Price’s research is unique, and likely impossible to repeat. He spent many years traveling the world just as airplanes were invented and closely observed the diet and health of people from cultures across all continents, meticulously documenting their diets and their overall health, particularly their dental health. Since flight was so novel, he was able to visit many areas which were still largely isolated from world markets and thus reliant on their own local traditionally-prepared food items. All of these places have been far better integrated into global trade and their diets are quickly degenerating into the appropriately acronymed SAD-Standard American Diet. Price took thousands of pictures of the people he studied as well as countless samples of their foods, which he then sent to his laboratories in Ohio for analysis.

Across the world, Price compared the diets of populations that were genetically similar but one of whom was integrated into global trade markets with access to industrial foods, while the other population was isolated and eating its local traditionally-prepared foods. Price studied the Inuit in northern Canada and Alaska, Swiss villagers in isolated valleys, herdsmen in central Africa, Pacific Islanders, Scottish farmers, and many more populations. No matter where in the world you come from, Price visited your ancestors, or people not too far from them. The results were as stark as they are edifying and Price arrived at several important conclusions. While it is really impossible to do justice to this momentous work in a few paragraphs, some important conclusions are worth discussing. The book is available for free online, complete with the shocking pictures contrasting jaw development.

One of the purposes of Price’s trip was to find “native dietaries consisting entirely of plant foods which were competent for providing all the factors needed for complete and normal physical development without the use of any animal tissues or product.” But after scouring the globe, Price did not find a single culture that subsisted on plant foods exclusively. All healthy traditional populations relied heavily on animal products. The healthiest and strongest populations he found were the Inuit of the Arctic and African herders. Almost nothing about the environment and customs of those two populations is similar in any way, except for the fact that they both relied almost exclusively on animal foods. Price came to see the sacred importance of animal fats across all societies, and analyzed the lengths to which populations went to secure it. Price found many nutrients that cannot be obtained from plants, and conclusively demonstrated that it is simply not possible to be healthy for any significant period of time without ingesting animal foods. To the extent that plant food was eaten, its role seemed primarily to be a vessel for ingesting precious fats.

Since Price’s research, nobody has managed to produce evidence of a single human society anywhere whose diet excludes animal foods. All human societies, from the arctic to the tropics, on every continent, had based their diet around animal foods. As the internet allows dietary knowledge to escape the grip of fiat science, and more humans have learned of the work of Price and countless other scholars, doctors, dietitians, and physical trainers willing to counter the fiat dogma, we are beginning to see some very clear patterns of results emerge from people who shift their diets to being predominantly based around animal meats: a huge reduction in desire for junk and ultra-processed food. The need to constantly be eating junk food is not just a product of their engineered hyper-palatability and addictive property, it is also a result of deep malnutrition caused by not eating enough meat. This can help us understand why the messianic anti-meat message has been so popular among fiat food producers and the fiat universities and media outlets they sponsor. No wonder the anti-meat message is blared out relentlessly by mainstream media, academia, and other industrial food marketing outlets. One can only imagine how different modern nutrition science would be if its purpose was to inform humans of how to be healthy rather than manipulate them into eating profitable poisons.

Another important conclusion from Price’s work is that the diseases of civilization that we’ve accepted as a normal part of life largely began to appear with the introduction of modern processed foods, in particular, grains, flours, and sugars. The book is full of stories and analysis that make this an inescapable conclusion. Here is but one of many examples to illustrate the point, drawn from Chapter 21:

“The responsibility of our modern processed foods of commerce as contributing factors in the cause of tooth decay is strikingly demonstrated by the rapid development of tooth decay among the growing children on the Pacific Islands during the time trader ships made calls for dried copra when its price was high for several months. This was paid for in 90 per cent white flour and refined sugar and not over 10 per cent in cloth and clothing. When the price of copra reduced from $400 a ton to $4 a ton, the trader ships stopped calling and tooth decay stopped when the people went back to their native diet. I saw many such individuals with teeth with open cavities in which the tooth decay had ceased to be active.”

Price closely studied how various cultures prepared their plant foods and extensively documented the methods needed to make most grains and plants palatable and non-toxic. These heavily complex traditional rituals of soaking, sprouting, and fermenting are necessary to remove the many natural toxins that exist in plant foods, and they allow the body to absorb the nutrients in these foods.  In the high time preference age of fiat, nobody has time for these rituals, and instead the majority prefers the industrial food processing methods which rely on maximizing the sugar and palatable ingredients at the expense of nutrients.

Price contributed massively to our understanding of nutrition and health, but like Menger and Mises in Economics, his teachings are largely ignored by the paper-pushing government-employed bureaucrats pretending to be modern scientists. Not coincidentally, listening to these government employees and ignoring Weston Price has come at a highly devastating cost to modern health.

Price’s research shows that the trends most responsible for malnutrition, obesity, and some diseases of modern civilization can be directly related to the economic realities of the twentieth century. The nutritional decline Price documented happened around the turn of the twentieth century, which, coincidentally, was when the modern world economy moved away from the hard money of the gold standard and toward the easy money of government.

It in unquestionable that a large part of the problem of modern industrial diets lies in the availability of modern high powered machinery capable of efficiently and quickly processing plants into hyperpalatable junk food. Yet, given everything discussed above, it is very difficult to argue that the fiat money experiment of the last century has not massively exacerbated the impact of modern industrial foods by heavily subsidizing them, and subsidizing the miseducation of generations of nutritionists and doctors to promote these foods. On a hard money standard, we would still have these industrial foods, but without fiat subsidies, they would not have been so ubiquitous in modern people’s diets. Without fiat facilitating the growth of the managerial state and financing the production of mass propaganda research and dietary guidelines tailored to normalize the consumption of fiat foods and warn against the dangers of healthy wholesome unindustrial low-profit-margin foods like meat, most people’s understanding of nutrition would be very different and far more similar to the traditions of their ancestors, which revolved heavily around animal foods.

Fiat soils

As discussed extensively in Chapter 5 of The Bitcoin Standard, the facet of the shift to easy money that I find most significant and fascinating is the effect it has on people’s time preference. As the purchasing power of fiat money is expected to decline over time, and as interest rates are artificially manipulated downward, individuals begin to favor spending and borrowing over saving. While my book discussed this tendency in terms of its impact on consumer decisions and capital markets, it is also worth considering the impact on people’s use of their natural environment and its soil, and on their personal health decisions.

As individuals’ time preference rises and they start to discount the future more heavily, they’re less likely to value the maintenance of a healthy future state of their natural environment and soil. Consider the effect this would have on farmers: the higher a farmer’s time preference, the less likely they are to care about the returns their land will be able to offer after ten years, and the more likely they are to care about maximizing their short-term profits. This would incentivise short-term focused management of soil, which would prioritize a quick return over long-term soil health. Indeed, this is exactly what we find with the depletion of the soil leading up to the 1930’s, at the time of Price’s writing.

The introduction of modern industrial production methods, thanks to the utilization of hydrocarbon energy has allowed humans to increase the intensity with which they utilize land, and consequently the amount of crops they can get out of it. While the story of increasing agricultural productivity is often touted as one of the great successes of the modern world, the heavy cost it has imposed on the soil goes largely unmentioned. The vast majority of agricultural soil in the world today is largely unable to grow crops without the addition of artificial industrially-produced chemical fertilizers, steadily degrading the nutritional content of the food compared to food grown on rich soil.

Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration begins with a discussion of the quality of the soil in modern societies, which he found to be quickly degrading, causing severe nutrient deficiencies in food. Price published his book in the 1930’s, and he had pinpointed the few decades prior as a time of particular decline in the nutrient content of land. While Price does not explicitly draw a connection with fiat money, the development is perfectly consistent with the analysis of fiat and time preference discussed in the chapters 5 and 8. Soil, being the productive asset from which all food comes, is capital. And as fiat encourages the consumption of capital, it will encourage the consumption of soil. We can understand the drive of industrial agriculture as the high time preference stripping of productive capital from the environment. Heavily-plowed industrial agriculture is an object lesson in high time preference, as is well understood by farmers worldwide, and well-articulated in the website of the Natural Resource Conservation Service of the US Department of Agriculture:

The plow is a potent tool of agriculture for the same reason that it has degraded productivity. Plowing turns over soil, mixes it with air, and stimulates the decomposition of organic matter. The rapid decomposition of organic matter releases a flush of nutrients that stimulates crop growth. But over time, plowing diminishes the supply of soil organic matter and associated soil properties, including water holding capacity, nutrient holding capacity, mellow tilth, resistance to erosion, and a diverse biological community.

The work of Alan Savory on the topic of soil depletion is very important here. The Savory Institute has been working on reforestation and soil regeneration across the world with spectacular success. Their secret? Unleashing large numbers of grazing animals on depleted soil to graze on whatever shrubs they can find, till the land with their hooves, and fertilize it with their manure. The results, visible on their website, speak for themselves and clearly illustrate a strong case for keeping soil healthy by holistically managing the grazing of large mammals on it. Agricultural crop production, on the other hand, quickly depletes the soil of its vital nutrients, making it fallow and requiring extensive fertilizer input to be productive. This explains why pre-industrial societies worldwide usually rotated their land from farming to grazing. After a few years of farming a plot whose output had begun to decline, the land was abandoned to grazing animals, and farmers moved to another plot. After that one was exhausted, farmers moved on to another plot, or returned to the earlier one if it had recovered.

The implication here is very clear: a low time preference approach to managing land would prioritize the long-term health of the soil, and thus entail the management of cropping along with the grazing of animals. A high time preference approach, on the other hand, would prioritize an immediate gain and exploit the soil to its fullest with little regard for long-term consequences. The mass production of crops, and their increased availability in our diet in the twentieth century, can also be seen as a consequence of rising time preference. The low time preference approach involves the production of a lot of meat, which usually has small profit margins, while the high time preference would favor the mass production of plant crops which can be optimized and scaled drastically with the introduction of industrial methods, allowing for significant profit margins.

Traditionally, plow farming was rotated with cattle grazing to replenish the soil. Grazing cattle are the secret to a healthy soil, as they till the land with their feet, and fertilize it with their excrement. Cattle grazing increases the ability of soil to absorb rainwater, allowing it to become rich with organic matter. After a few years of grazing, the land would be ready for crop farming.

As industrialization introduced heavy machinery to plow the soil, and as fiat money discounted the utility of the future, this traditional balance has been destroyed, and replaced with intensive agriculture that depletes the soil very quickly. Rather than regenerate the soil naturally with cattle manure, industrial fertilizers are applied in ever-increasing amounts.

Just because industrialization allows for the quick depletion of the soil does not mean that people are obliged to engage in it.  Only understanding the distortion of time preference helps us understand why this style of agriculture has become so popular in spite of its massively detrimental effect on humans and their soil.

Industrial farming allows farmers to strip nutrients from their soil rapidly, maximizing output in the first few years, at the expense of the health of the soil in the long-run. By contrast, maintaining a healthy soil through rotating cattle grazing and crop farming will offer less reward in the short-run, but maintain the health of the soil in the long-run. A heavily-plowed field, producing heavily-subsidized fiat foods would allow the farmer a large short-term profit, while careful management of the soil would allow the farmer a lower but more sustainable income into the future.

As the ability of farmers to save for their future in a hard money is destroyed by fiat, the certainty of the future declines, and the discounting of the future increases. The value of nutrients kept in the soil for the future is discounted heavily, and the incentive to deplete the soil for a quick payday increases.

Industrialization allows for the extensive indulgence of people’s high time preference in utilizing soils. With modern hydrocarbon-powered machinery and technology, nutrients can be extracted from the soil far more rapidly than before, allowing for quicker depletion of the soil and more short-term profits. Fertilizers allow this present-orientation to appear relatively costless in the future, since depleted soil can still be made fertile with industrial fertilizers. After a century of industrial farming, it is clear that this trade-off was very costly as the human toll of industrial farming grows larger and clearer.

It is remarkable to find that within the field of nutrition, without any reference to economic or monetary policy, Price had identified the first third of the twentieth century as having witnessed immense degradation of the soil, and a decline in the richness of nutrients in the food produced from it. The great cultural critic Jacques Barzun, in his seminal history of the west, From Dawn to Decadence, had precisely identified the year 1914 as the year in which the decadence and decline of the west had begun, when art began its shift toward the less sophisticated modern forms, and where political and social cultures went from liberalism to liberality. Like Price, Barzun makes no mention of the shift in monetary standards and the link it might have to the degradation he identifies. In the work of these two great men, prime experts in their respective fields, we find compelling evidence of a shift toward more present-orientation across the western world in the early twentieth century. Barzun’s work illustrates this for culture and art, while Price illustrates it with the nutrient content of the soil, both of which are natural consequences of an upward shift in time preference.

As with his architecture, art, and family, fiat man’s food quality is declining constantly, with the healthy nourishing traditional foods of his ancestors being replaced by well-marketed addictive and toxic industrial sludge marketed as food by fiat. The soil from which his civilization and all that lives within it springs continues to get depleted, and its essential nutrients are replaced by petroleum-derived chemical fertilizers marketed as soil by fiat.

I hope you enjoyed this preview chapter from The Fiat Standard. If you would like to order the book, click here.