All this proved a bit too much for Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, who was moved to make an impassioned plea this week for a cultural reality check, warning about the possibility of the incursion of “a right-wing political agenda” into seemingly apolitical discussions of how best to fight the effects of a devastating economy on the nation’s most vulnerable.

Berg’s critique, which he focused, online, on Sesame Street, then widened, with me, on the phone this week, might, on the surface seem surprising: a kale and burdock root-munching Brooklyn mom would appear, at first glance, to have little in common with a Tea Party stalwart, and Sesame Street is hardly a hotbed of political reaction.

Yet in these, and in much of the well-meaning progressive response to the twin problems of hunger and obesity in our country, there is, indeed, a common thread: a deep-rooted, unthinking do-it-yourself individualism. It’s so ingrained as to be virtually unconscious. And at a time when nearly 49 million Americans are living in “food-insecure households” — i.e. homes where family members sometimes go hungry — it’s a tendency that, if unchecked, can do a great deal of harm.

Don’t Make Fighting Hunger Trendy | TIME Ideas |

Absolutely! — I mean, people making thoughtful, responsible, financially prudent decisions about their own eating habits? My God, what next? Tearing up credit cards? Once people start trying to address political and economic problems by changing their own behavior, the Ruin of All Things must be just around the corner. We must stamp out such nonsense now!