The Personal Responsibility “Smoke Screen”

It’s been a busy week at the ABN studios and at the farm, although I guess maybe I should say it’s been a busy week for the ABN team, because neither Lindsay nor I have spent much time at either location this week! On the heels of the Ohio State Fair we’ve done a fair bit of travel, covering the Southwest Ohio Corn Growers Field Day, the Mercer County Fair, and a Media Visit to the Pioneer Hi-Bred Research Center in Champaign, Illinois.

A lot of good things to report from each of those events, particularly from our trip to Champaign. Very much enjoyed the time with the Pioneer crew in Champaign, and you can find my interviews with some of the experts there at; Lindsay’s interviews will follow early next week. The operation is impressive, and the work they’re doing to keep moving farmers forward in productivity is amazing.

Beyond that, I’ve made some strides in my “Half-Man Challenge,” completing my first body composition test, and losing some additional pounds. I’ve started to notice some small changes, like my rings being lose on my fingers, and needing to tighten up another notch on my belt to keep my trousers up… Good stuff, certainly, but still a long way to go!

There are a few items I wanted to share heading into the weekend. First is a rebuttal of sorts to my column and subsequent conversations here about the importance of personal responsibility. I cited a blogger and “food entrepreneur” named Rob Smart as the genesis of this conversation. Rob believes that food marketing companies are to blame for a host of ills in our society, including our collectively expanding waistline and incidences of diseases ranging from diabetes to allergies.

Rob responded to my article this week at the Huffington Post (a bastion of critical thinking and common sense on the internet), and while not citing me or naming me directly, there is no doubt in my mind that my conversations with Rob via Twitter were the instigation for his screed. “Seeing Through the Food Industry’s ‘Personal Responsibility’ Smokescreen,” the op-ed’s title, says it all: my firm reliance on personal responsibility and integrity, the hallmark principles of our Founding Fathers, is merely a cover to make us feel guilty about the shady dealings of some mythical cabal of corporate food marketers like McDonald’s and General Mills.


So in other words, when I stated my belief that I’m to blame for my own diet and fitness decisions and my overall health situation, it was only because this evil industrial food cartel has brainwashed me into a state of guilt and self-loathing. To whit:

…Today, the individual’s ability to exercise personal responsibility has been severely compromised by our industrial food system. Yet defenders of the status quo consistently use “personal responsibility” as a smoke screen to cover the tracks of industrial food, tracks that run roughshod over the mirage of choice and personal responsibility.

It is clear that industrial food knowingly develops and promotes food-like substances that make us fat, spread diet-related diseases and disregard unsustainable impacts on our environment. Backed by hundreds of billions of dollars in product development, marketing, advertising and lobbying, along with government regulations favoring industrial food, there is seemingly nothing standing in their way.

“Food-like substance?” What on earth is a food-like substance? Maybe its just me, but if I can eat it, it’s food. The fact that a given food may not be the pinnacle of healthy eating doesn’t absolve it of being food. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: food is food, period. Beyond that, the bigger problem with Rob’s argument is the assertion that if you or I believe that we are personally responsible for our own health and well-being, we’ve somehow been brainwashed by corporate food marketers. This type of thinking is the central problem in our society today.

The absolution from personal responsibility is prevalent in any number of stories in the press today. From sub-prime lending to gun control to this obesity “epidemic,” we’re led to believe that we are free from accountability if things don’t go our way. If a kid accidentally fires a weapon and harms or kills someone else, it’s the fault of the gun or the manufacturer rather than an irresponsible gun owner. If I bought a home I couldn’t afford, it was because of a predatory lender rather than my own bad decision making.

I refuse to believe that I am incapable of making good informed decisions about my own life and situation. Likewise, I refuse to believe that my friends and neighbors are similarly incapacitated. We’ve been granted by our creator the unique and wonderful gift of free choice, and likewise imbued with the gift of reason and logic. With these tools, we can evaluate a given set of circumstances and make an informed decision that will serve our own best interests.

Since this debate began a few weeks ago, I’ve embarked on this “Half Man Challenge,” or what I originally termed my “Mission to Become Half the Man I am Today.” While the original end goal of dropping 150 pounds has shifted a little, the overall promise is still the same: I’m making daily decisions about my own health, diet, and fitness that will make me a better, stronger, healthier individual by this time next year. By tracking my eating and exercise, and by starting a training plan with Scott and Eve Ann at Baseline Fitness, I’m well on my way. I’ve dropped roughly 25 pounds in the last three weeks, and as I mentioned, I’ve noticed a change already.

Proof positive that even when you started as far from your best health as I did, you can make good decisions and move forward. It ain’t easy, but it can be done. Personal responsibility isn’t a “smoke screen” from me or the food industry; it’s the cornerstone of a life of integrity, and a society of free people.