Revisiting the Original ‘Tea Party’: The Historical Roots of Regulating Food Consumption in America
43 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2011 Last revised: 20 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 11, 2011
In response to concerns over rising obesity rates, state and federal policymakers have introduced laws that seek to internalize the public health costs of consuming unhealthy foods. These laws range from taxes on sugared beverages to mandatory nutritional information disclosures and beyond. Vocal opponents to such laws, including many Tea Party members, characterize such laws as government overreaching into the private sphere. That opposition often evokes Revolutionary images and ideology, with references to the Boston Tea Party, the Founding Fathers, and the framing of the Constitution. This article challenges the symbolism used by these opponents by examining the pre-Revolutionary non-importation and non-consumption agreements. Historians have demonstrated that the original impetus behind these pre-Revolutionary “Associations” was something akin to modern concerns: The colonists’ conspicuous consumption during the prosperous Seven Years’ War had prompted Britain to believe that the colonies could afford higher taxes to pay the British war debt. In response, colonists began publicly urging each other to change their private consumption choices in order to alleviate the shared social costs of this behavior. The article compares the political situation and strategies of the colonists to the modern era and argues that the “Associators” and early Federalists had at least as much, if not more, in common with contemporary advocates of food-consumption regulation as with the small-government Tea Party opposition.
Keywords: Food, Obesity, Consumption, Tea Party, Non-Importation Agreements, Revolution
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