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In defense of fast food

By David Veksler
web posted April 21, 2003

A sinister new threat is looming over helpless Iraqi civilians, one that may rob them of their health, take away their freedom, and destroy their culture.  Is it the Iraqi dictator?  No, Saddam is dead or missing.  Is it American bombs and bullets?  No, the U.S. military took great care to avoid civilian casualties (even putting our soldiers at risk in the process) and besides, the war is nearly over.  What is the nature of this insidious threat?  According to Voices in the Wilderness, an anti-war group in Chicago, one of the greatest threats to Iraqi civilians is fast food. 

After complaining for years about millions starving due to U.S. sanctions, liberals are now whining about overeating and obesity due to American food.  As member Stephanie Schaudel explains, "Some people would think that seeing a KFC on a street corner is a sign of progress, I certainly don't."  Why the opposition to fatty foods?  "You can just look at what those kinds of businesses have done to the diet and health of many Americans to think that it might not be the number one thing we should be exporting…Iraqis have really good food, they don't need a KFC."  Now that the pacifists' hopes of bloody resistance to the liberation of Iraq have been dashed, they are once again uniting to oppose U.S. "colonialism" and "cultural imperialism."  A spokesman for A.N.S.W.E.R., an anti-war group worries that fast-food corporations "will enter this homogenized McDonalds culture and of course we will see a loss of local traditions and a local way of life."  What is the nature of this unspoiled native "way of life" and what kind of threat does McDonalds pose to it?

Iraq has a 4000-year history of being ruled by one despot after another.  In 634 AD, invading Muslim armies kicked out the Persian rulers and offered the people the following ultimatum: "Accept the faith and you are safe; otherwise pay tribute.  If you refuse to do either, you have only yourself to blame.  A people is already upon you, loving death as you love life."  For a time, Islamic civilization was a thriving center of intellectual discourse, in stark contrast to the barbaric tribes and religious fundamentalism dominating Europe during the Middle Ages.  However, around the 8th century, the Islamic world was split between teachings of the Arab philosopher, al-Kindi, founder of the school of Mu'tazilites and advocate of a rational interpretation of basic beliefs of Islam, and the followers of Ahmed ibn Hanbal, a traditionalist who argued against the use of reason and for the reliance on faith and tradition in interpreting the Qur'an.  When the Mu'tazilite school lost out in the ninth century, Iraq, along with the rest of the Arab world, were plunged into an era of religious fundamentalism and traditionalism that persists to this day, effectively isolating themselves from the intellectual Renaissance in Europe that brought scientific discovery and progress back into the Western world.  Like many of his predecessors, Saddam was not religious, but he used religion to skillfully exploit the weary and brainwashed people of Iraq.

The rediscovery of classical thinking during the Renaissance led to the formation of the "ethnocentric western culture" that liberals love to demonize.  The foundation of Western culture is the reliance of reason rather than faith to find out the basic facts of reality.  By the use of reason, great thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, Francois Voltaire, John Locke, Adam Smith, and Thomas Jefferson, discovered that man had certain unalienable rights, among them the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.  While the Islamic world plunged ever deeper into the stagnation of religious fundamentalism, the great minds of Europe and America woke up and asserted that every man had a right to live for his own sake, and that the proper function of government was to be an obedient servant, not master of the people.  They recognized that voluntary trade to mutual benefit was superior to slavery and servitude, whether to a king or to a mob.  When the Founders established the United States of America, they set up the greatest experiment in history to test their newly-found values.  The experiment, for a while at least, was a great success.  The civilized world experienced never-before seen prosperity, economic growth, and increases in the longevity and quality of life.  Religion did not die out in the West, but the Founders recognized that the role of government was to protect men's rights, not to enforce morality, and allowed men to their own meaning in the universe.  Western civilization was far from perfect: slavery, war, and suffering persisted -- but to the extent that men recognized the right of every person to his own life, their societies flourished. 

This is then, the "Western imperialism" that liberals condemn as inferior and destructive to the "fragile" Iraqi culture.  McDonalds and KFC are the products of a wealthy society, one that is able to mass-produce cheap, dependable goods more efficiently and safer than ever before.  Certainly, as a mainstay of one's diet, fast food would be unhealthy – but the rapid growth of low-fat items on menus and health-oriented franchises like Subway shows that the markets respond to consumer demand.  Peter Cook, an organizer with a radical pacifist group claims that "Iraqis have really good food, they don't need a KFC" – but is he worried that Iraqis will be dragged into KFC at gunpoint and traditional eating venues bombed into extinction?  No, he is scared stiff that Iraqis will choose to eat cheaper, safer, and yes, even healthier food paid by productive and free Iraqi workers, rather than thrown the scraps of international handouts after their dictator decided which city was going to starve that day for not bowing down to his regime. 

The pacifists are clearly not concerned about Iraqi civilians.  They did not care about the millions who died under Saddam's brutal regime, and they do not wish to bring Iraqis the values that brought the Western world out of the Dark Ages and into the light of liberty and prosperity.  They volunteered as human shields to protect Saddam's weapons factories, but they now wish for Americans to get out of Iraq without restoring order or reconstruction by turning over Iraq to the incompetent and corrupt hands of the UN.  Now that they have failed to keep the United States from asserting the right to its own existence (albeit weakly), they seek to prevent the United States from asserting the values that give us the right to that existence.  Having failed to save the Iraqi dictator, they seek to save the values that created him.  They claim that all cultures are equal, that even the claim that freedom is better than slavery, prosperity is better than poverty, and life is better than living death amounts to ethnocentric imperialism and racism.  It is not fast food that these peaceniks oppose, but civilization and life – as it should be lived.  They have made their stance clear.  Let us now make ours.

David Veksler is a senior economics and political science major at Texas A&M University and editor of the Aggie Review.

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