We’ve been reading Food Fight, A Citizens Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, by Dan Imhoff. For a Cliffs notes version of this important piece of federal legislature, click here to follow the story over 8 posts.
Farm Bill. Not Sexy. Really Matters.
Section two of this 2012 book looks at current issues that will affect future Farm Bill negotiations and any effort to create a more balanced approach to food subsidies; one where grain commodities share equal stage with support for vegetables, beans, nuts and fruits, or specialty crops.
Growing obesity in the U.S. is one such issue. Food Fight asks:
What is the Farm Bill’s role in public health, and does it contribute to America’s obesity crisis? (pg. 115)
One side argues subsidizing commodities used in corn syrup and junk food makes them much more attractive and accessible. Low-income people come to rely on discount junk food, not out of preference, but price. Metabolically toxic, ultra-processed carbohydrates (starch) seasoned with sugar, salt and fat, or not, who cares when you’re hungry?
Others argue not so fast. Don’t blame the subsidies. They are just a symptom of consumer demand and the unfortunate “cultural shift toward unhealthy eating.” People will demand their junk food, no matter the price.
The reasons why two-thirds of us are overweight, (quickly moving to ¾’s of the population) are complex. Imhoff doesn’t opine, but rather reveals how out of alignment USDA policies are to its own nutritional guidelines. What they tell us to eat and what they subsidize farmers to grow are complete opposites.
EX: In the 2008 Farm Bill, $13 - $21 billion was spent on commodities, while only $600,000 was spent on fruit, vegetables and nuts.
- Graphic courtesy of the USDA and Food Fight
Environmental health is yet another piece in the public health puzzle we call Farm Bill. Pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers infiltrate modern agriculture, required no less to grow acres of mono-cropped wheat, corn and soy (top subsidized commodities) Taxpayers pay for others to pollute our bodies and the land we inhabit.
The good news is more people are paying attention. Public health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and John Hopkins Center have started promoting the connections between farming practices, crop subsidies and improved public health. Nonprofit groups are organizing to build awareness of Farm Bill’s public health weakness and building campaigns to get eaters involved.
For the Farm Bill to achieve its stated goal of supporting a healthy food system, changes must be made. This includes more support for diversity in crop production and fair prices for farmers, along with an ongoing public education campaign to promote heathy eating.
Voters stand up!
We need a system which supports the nutritional, environmental and taste challenges of the 21st century.
Farm Bill negotiations are happening in House committees now, and the renewal of the Bill is expected this fall. Contact your local representatives and make your voice heard.
- Graphic courtesy of Food Fight