The Secret Farm Bill

The Republican-manufactured budget crisis of this past summer — remember? — resulted in a “solution” that’s hijacking what little representative democratic process we have left. Equally sad is that the so-called supercommittee — charged with creating an outline for reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years — may preclude full discussion of the farm bill.

It’s the farm bill that largely shapes food and agriculture policy, and — though much of it finances good programs — ultimately supports the cynical, profit-at-any-cost food system that drives obesity, astronomical health care costs, ethanol-driven agriculture and more, creating further deficits while punishing the environment.

The farm bill is written every five years. Although the current one doesn’t expire until September, the next one may be all but wrapped up by your first bite of turkey, because the leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees — a group of four, representing Oklahoma, Michigan, Minnesota and Kansas (do you see a pattern here?) — are working feverishly to draw up a proposal in time to submit it to the supercommittee before the Nov. 23 deadline.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Local Food is Not Elitist. It’s American

I’m not a jingoist, but I’d prefer that more of my food came from America. It’d be even better, really, if most of it came from within a few hundred miles of where we live. We’d be more secure and better served, and our land would be better used. And I’d feel prouder, as if we had a food culture rather than a food fetish.

The Farm Bill [PDF], which is currently under negotiation for renewal — and is dangerously close to being pushed through without real debate — needs to address this issue head-on. But by subsidizing commodities, the existing bill (and food policy in general), pushes things in precisely the opposite direction. The vast majority of our farmland grows corn (we’re the world’s largest producer), soy and wheat, and these, along with meat and dairy, make us net exporters of foodstuffs.

Incredibly, however, we are net importers of fruits and vegetables, foods that our land is capable of growing in abundance and once did. Most of our imports are from Mexico, Chile and Canada, but fresh fruits and especially vegetables are shipped here from all over the world, with significant quantities coming from as far away as India, China and Thailand. And those imports are growing.

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Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Americans See a Food System that Needs Fixing

With the Farm Bill fast approaching, and the congressional Super Committee taking a hard look at which farm programs to cut and which to preserve, this is a good moment for Americans to let their feelings on these things be known. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released a compelling comparison of two brand new polls detailing Americans’ views of our current food system. One poll was commissioned by the conservation-minded David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the other by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, (USFRA) a well-funded group intent on advancing the interests and restoring the image of big agriculture.

While each poll skews slightly in the direction that you might expect, there’s a surprising alignment. Perhaps most notable in the USFRA poll is that 42 percent of respondents said the U.S. is “on the wrong track in the way we produce food,” as opposed to 39 percent who said it’s “heading in the right direction.” Acknowledging that we’re on the wrong track is the first step (and a crucial one). Getting political decision-makers to follow suit is next, and much more difficult.

Bug your Congressperson.

(This post originally appeared here.)

Posted in Food Politics

Last Week in Food

Thank you, Anna Lappe, for writing what so many of us non-GMO-Kool-Aid-drinkers have been thinking about Nina Fedoroff’s Times Op-Ed.

When it comes to food safety, the F.D.A. has more than ever to do – but not a lot of resources with which to operate.

The U.S. is becoming a food stamp nation. But we’re still a soda nation, and we’ll stay that way for a little while longer at least: the U.S.D.A. rejected New York’s proposal to ban the use of food stamps for sugar-sweetened beverages. The U.S.D.A. prefers healthy incentives to outright restrictions, but I have to think the U.S.D.A. could be a little more forceful in attempting to reduce soda consumption among food benefit recipients, and everyone else.

More on the most sensible basic way to change our eating habits: A Vienna University of Technology study says if you want to help the environment switching to organic is a lot less productive than just eating less meat. Different story, same ending: Tufts food economist explains why not all food price increases are bad (spoiler alert: they can lead to drastic forms of moderation like. . .gulp. . .eating a little less meat.)

I guess I can’t talk about eating less meat without including this shout out to Bill Clinton, now America’s most famous vegan. (You gotta think he cheats, though, no? Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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Posted in Food Politics