“If you want to buy a Happy Meal with a horsemeat burger, a can of Four Loko, trans fat fried foie gras, and a side of shark fin soup, I applaud your right to make those choices,” says Baylen Linnekin as we sit on his porch in North Bethesda.
The 39-year-old executive director of the nonprofit Keep Food Legal has a decidedly libertarian perspective on food politics. “We want you to have the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, cook, eat, and drink the food of your own choosing,” he says. “We’re opposed to subsidies that skew those choices and bans that clear those choices off the board. People are not stupid. They can make their own choices and live with the consequences.”
To that end, we’re sipping on cans of lemonade-flavored Four Loko, malt liquor cranked up with guarana, caffeine, and taurine. When I admit my ignorance over the final ingredient, Linnekin offers, “I think it’s approved for use in animal feed as a stimulant, but not in human food.” That’s reassuring.
The boozy energy drink was banned in several states in 2010 after it was linked to illness and, in some cases, death. Before the company pulled it off the shelves, Linnekin ran out and bought several cases, but not because he likes it.
“It’s disgusting,” he admits. “But I don’t believe that my personal tastes should dictate what other people choose to enjoy.”
With its presiding bitterness and lingering chemical aftertaste, Four Loko definitely isn’t Country Time lemonade, but Linnekin is more concerned with his philosophical point than his palate.
Photo of Baylen Linnekin by Darrow Montgomery courtesy of Washington City Paper.