Atlas Shrugged Part I opened last week in the movie theaters, leading me to reread Ayn Rand’s epic novel and to think about all that’s being done to our food supply “for our own good.” Indeed we are already seeing disastrous effects on personal and planetary health from Big Brother’s wasteful and corrupt subsidies of corn, soy, wheat and Big Pfood; from the increasing control over independent farmers through orders, directives, restrictions and police actions; and, even power over what families can choose to eat and feed their children.
Ayn Rand’s 1,168 page novel, first published in 1957, rarely mentions food directly. Indeed we might think her protagonist Dagny Taggart lives on coffee and cigarettes, except for a single incident in Part II when she eats the best “hamburger sandwich” she ever tasted at a little diner located on the summit of a long, hard climb out of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
That hamburger, of course, was not just a burger, but a product of simple ingredients and of an unusual skill. It had been prepared with integrity, by a philosopher genius, no less, and was authentic and real with nothing ersatz, tricky or pretentious about it. In short, an überburger that represented Ayn Rand’s and Dagny Taggart’s highest values.
The food Rand chose to represent the lowest values was soy. In Part III the author introduces the flabby mystic Emma “Ma” Chambers, whose “progressive” dietary views led to the waste of millions of tax dollars on “Project Soybean.” Ma had been appointed the nation’s food czar out of pity and connections, not intelligence or ability. With no objective evidence whatsoever, Ma felt soybeans would make “an excellent substitute for bread, meat, cereals and coffee” and that Americans not only needed to eat more like Asians but should be forced to do so for their own good. Ma’s feeling that soybeans were of a higher “moral value” than wheat, led to government orders to pull trains out of the Midwest, loss of the nation’s wheat crop, economic collapse and widespread starvation. As for the soybean crop, it too was lost thanks to the rotters’ incompetence.
Given Hollywood’s current worship of veganism, I rather doubt “Project Soybean” will enliven Atlas Shrugged Part II or III, should those sequels ever be made. As for vegetarianism, it was a symbol of silliness, failure and poverty back in Rand’s day. To say that someone was a “vegetable” meant they were unable to think or act with intelligence, and, if in a hospital, lay there comatose. People Rand admired not only had “meaty” ideas but the motive power to act decisively, effectively, appropriately and imaginatively on them.