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You may not think much about government as you push your shopping cart down the aisle of your local supermarket. But nothing the government does affects your life more often and more directly than food policy. What food is available, what it costs, what's in it, what you can find out about it, and whether it's safe - the government has a hand in all of that.

Given its universal importance, you might expect the food policy of a democratic government to work out one of two ways: Either food would be hotly debated in every election, or our common interest as eaters would produce a completely non-partisan pro-consumer consensus.

Strangely, though, our government has a pro-food-industry policy which is often anti-consumer, and that policy is hardly ever a major issue.

[from The Weekly Sift]

Think about it: Candidates constantly try to make hay out of invisible threats like Iran's nuclear weapons program or even completely imaginary ones like the death panels of Obamacare. But when was the last time you heard a politician pledge to do something about the growing rate of salmonella infections?

Obesity and policy. Everybody knows that America has a obesity problem. Because of it, we spend more on healthcare and die younger anyway. But to the extent this issue gets public attention at all, it is framed as an individual character problem - we don't have the discipline to eat carrots instead of carrot cake - rather than as a problem with the way our food is produced and marketed.

But isn't it strange how the American character degraded so suddenly since the mid-1970s (when the average American was 18 pounds lighter)? Shouldn't a major cultural change take longer than that? (Check out this graph.)

The media inundates us with stories about how to diet, but seldom touches the government's role in subsidizing fats and sugars over healthier fruits and vegetables. Here's the exception that proves the rule: Peter Jennings' “How to Get Fat Without Really Trying” from 2003. (Here are the ad-free links for parts 1234, and 5.) Would I have to go back to 2003 to find a major-network piece about dieting?

Free enterprise? Any threat to our current food system is quickly labeled as an attack on free enterprise: If industry produces something and people want to buy it, what's the problem? If it's bad for them, that's their own fault. They should eat something else.

But the current food system has little to do with free enterprise. Michael Pollan explains:

So much of our food system is the result of policy choices made in Washington. The reason we're eating from these huge monocultures of corn and soybeans is that that's the kind of farming that the government has supported, in the form of subsidies, in the form of agricultural research. All the work is going to produce more of  those so-called commodity crops that are the building blocks of fast food.

GMOs. As an example, ask yourself: When did you decide to start eating genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)?  Probably you didn't. Probably you ate products made from genetically modified corn and soybeans for a long time before you realized that you were eating them at all. Maybe you still don't realize you eat GMOs; but unless you're totally obsessive about where your food comes from, you do eat them.

That also is due to government policy: Kellogg's doesn't have to tell you whether their corn flakes have GMOs. They like it that way, whether you like it or not.

The basic research behind GMOs was funded by governments; the profit goes to corporations like Monsanto. The risks have been passed on to the consumer without anyone asking the consumer. That's not how free enterprise is supposed to work.

And who knows? Maybe there are no risks. Maybe eating GMOs is as harmless as Monsanto claims. Maybe GMOs aren't responsible for systemic effects like the collapse of bee colonies.

None of the claims against GMOs have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor will they be, most likely, because neither government nor industry has much interest in funding that research. (You can bet the research being done at Beeologics won't implicate Monsanto, because Monsanto just bought them.)

The Farm Bill is a Food Bill. Your power as a consumer is not going to change the food system until your power as a voter makes it changeable. To change food policy, Pollan says, we need to change the Farm Bill that goes through Congress every five years.

But it isn't really just a bill for farmers. It really should be called the Food Bill, because it is the rules for the system we all eat by. And those rules are really lousy right now, and they need to be changed.
That 5-year process is almost complete now, so the positive changes that are still possible are minimal. Absent a vocal popular movement, food is a perfect issue for lobbyists: The affected industries have a lot of money to spend, and the general public isn't paying attention.

We're not going to raise a vocal popular movement in the next few weeks. Most people don't care and don't know why anyone thinks they should care. And that's what needs to change between now and 2017.

I'm still in the process of raising my own consciousness about this stuff, so I can just point in a general direction. (If you've got better advice, make a comment.) I've just add Food Politics to the list of blogs I cruise regularly. (Worthwhile recent posts pointed me to the report How Washington went soft on childhood obesity and explained where that supermarket sushi comes from.) Suggestions of other blogs/authors/websites are welcome.

Originally posted to Pericles on Mon May 28, 2012 at 11:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Food manufacturers are a special interest (27+ / 0-)

    ... which is why they get special interest from Congresscritters.  I use the term "manufacturer" to distinguish the conglomerates from local farmers and other small producers.  

    Why do we subsidize high fructose corn syrup instead of fruits and vegetables?  That choice, and the obesity epidemic it engenders, is one more cost of tolerating a comprehensively corrupt government.  The costs are astronomical if they are truly calculated, and the country can no longer afford them.  Either we end the corruption endemic to our government or our country goes down the tubes.  We won't be the first great power to be brought low by corruption, just the latest.

    When Free Speech is outlawed, only outlaws will have Free Speech.

    by Dallasdoc on Mon May 28, 2012 at 11:42:59 AM PDT

  •  A long time ago (17+ / 0-)

    I read a book, or maybe a tract, by Jim Hightower (it was the first time I came across his name) saying that first and foremost, if we wanted healthy changes in our society we would need to organize mass movements of Eaters and Breathers.

    The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges. ~ Anatole France

    by ActivistGuy on Mon May 28, 2012 at 11:44:45 AM PDT

  •  For me, (7+ / 0-)

    one of the pleasures of life was watching and assisting our kid become a food-eater.
    The transition from being on an all-liquid diet to learning how to eat was an amusing one to watch for this parent of the little human.

    I know I'm not alone because I've noticed the same response among other parents.

    Now that the kid is grown, the subject has long ceased to be a source of entertainment. I can't help but think though, that if I were a young parent now, the whole topic would be fraught with stress instead of enjoyment.

     What the hell is in the food the kid is eating....would be a nagging question.
    Parents (and grandparents) everywhere ought to be really pissed.
    Feeding our kids food that is bad for them, just because it is all that is available, is not fun.

  •  Interesting graph (5+ / 0-)

    What happened in 1976? Was that the introduction of HFCS in our diet?

  •  We weren't asked if we wanted Red Delicious (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yo Bubba, Pithy Cherub, farmerchuck

    apples (clones)*, triticale (lab bred rye/wheat cross from yesteryear), Star Ruby grapefruit (created through radiation mutation), or finally GMO papaya which carries no pesticide, just resistance to a deadly virus.

    Just sayin.

    * all commercial and many heritage tree fruit are clones

    “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

    by the fan man on Mon May 28, 2012 at 04:56:24 PM PDT

    •  Cloning an apple is not exactly high tech (9+ / 0-)

      We've been doing that for generations and it doesn't concern me.  You just cut into the cambium (under the bark) of the tree you're not all that fond of and insert a young branch from a tree you like a lot.

      Inserting Bt into a plant genome, so that the entire plant becomes toxic to caterpillars?  That concerns me.

      Genetic modification has the potential to be useful, but what has it given us thus far?  Plants producing their own pesticide and plants resistant to pesticides.  None of these innovations has led to long-term improvements, other than in the bottom line for the companies selling the pesticides.  Corn rootworm is becoming resistant to Bt and pigweed is becoming resistant to glyphosphate.

      Universal Health Care - it's coming, but not soon enough!

      by DrFood on Mon May 28, 2012 at 05:06:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thousands of acres of monocropped clones (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DrFood, Yo Bubba, qofdisks, farmerchuck

        doesn't bother you? OK. That gives people the heebie jeebies when applied to corn and wheat. I agree what we've seen so far from GMO, while giving farmers a distinct short term bump, has also quickened the pace of pest and pesticide one upsmanship. Insects were showing resistance to Bt from sprayed applications before GMOs, showing once again, you use the same product repeatedly without variation and you get resistance.

        Like I said, there is GMO papaya and rice that you don't hear much about THANK GOD. GMO is no panacea, just another tool.

        My point was we've been changing food without our (consumers) advice just about forever.

        “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

        by the fan man on Mon May 28, 2012 at 06:07:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The mono-cultures are vulnerable to stress. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          farmerchuck, the fan man

          That is why we have to support locally grown food especially trying to preserve heirloom varieties.  It is a long term investment for food security.

          •  I agree for fruits and vegetables. For grains, (0+ / 0-)

            planting older varieties confers no disease or pest resistance (that I know). Most of that has been bred into new varieties. Making grain production more regionalized is good planning for resiliency.  The sad part for me is that plant scientists understand the need for variety preservation, the needs of modern industrial ag increasingly makes sure we can't.

            “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

            by the fan man on Tue May 29, 2012 at 10:55:32 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Sometimes, I just wish (7+ / 0-)

    the government would subsidize something I can digest.  Wheat gluten and dairy lactose are pretty much the basis of everything you can order in restaurants, and even in supermarkets, finding a cheap box of gluten-free cereal is like finding the Holy Grail. And sugar and corn syrup turn up in some pretty improbable places.

  •  This is a wonderful post...let's see if we can (4+ / 0-)

    get some policies changed.  I have been into food for a long time, starting in the 70s and evolving along the way.

    This is a good conversation to have.  Monsanto scares the hell out of me.  They are freaks and they pretty much have control of the commercial food system.  There is a pretty telling documentary on hulu (free) that really hits the high points of Monsanto and frankenfoods.

    Thank you for this post and getting the conversation started.  I for one think that this is a Dem and rethug problem, not really a great divide between the two parties.

    "A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered." Ralph Waldo Emerson

    by Yo Bubba on Mon May 28, 2012 at 07:12:42 PM PDT

  •  I wish I could rec this diary 10 times. (5+ / 0-)

    I have been frustrated for quite some time that our country subsidizes corn syrup while not subsidizing fruits and veggies. I must confess that in the past I was drinking as many as 3 cans of Coca-Cola a day--& I don't even want to talk about the candy bars. Yes, I realize no one forced me to eat that garbage--but there's something wrong in a country where soda costs less than milk.

    My diet has improved recently: I now have a nearly one-year-old baby. It's amazing how much your perspective of food changes when you are introducing a new person to solid food. It is much more important (and bothersome!) to try to eat well when one member of the family is just starting to eat solids. I don't want B to get used to eating processed crap. I make baby food for her, because even the organic jarred stuff tastes awful! And it's so hard to find ready-made snack foods for toddlers that aren't full of garbage. We do well when we're at home, but I haven't a clue what I'm going to feed B when we fly to my mother's for week. At Mom's house we'll be okay, but on the plane? On the road? Yikes!! McDonald's? Subway? Taco Bell? Every easy option sounds scary, but there are only so many Cheerios you can feed your baby in a single day.  But the ready-made toddler snacks are mostly loaded with sugar (or are essentially bread or crackers). Jarred food either tastes sickly sweet--or simply vile.

    Because of the lack of subsidies on fruits and veggies, it's going to get really expensive to feed her healthy foods once she eats more. Snacks currently include microwaved frozen broccoli, and microwaved frozen blueberries, and pieces of cut up bell pepper. When a serving size is more than a tablespoon, that is going to get expensive because fruits & veggies cost a lot, especially if one buys organic for the baby.

    We're extremely fortunate because I can stay at home with her, so I've had time to read about making baby food and do it. It's expensive to buy some of the ingredients--and time-consuming--but still much cheaper than buying the prepared stuff. Honestly, I think some of the baby food is designed specifically to acclimate our children to processed garbage early.

    Off the baby-food topic, why don't we have any prepackaged, single-serving sizes of broccoli, or sweet potato, or blueberries, etc. in the freezer section? Since I started making and freezing individual portions of baby food, I've been wondering why adult-sized single-servings of healthy food weren't available. They could charge a premium for them--and it would help people eat better.

    This isn't entirely on topic, but I hope it's not exactly off topic either. Thank you for listening to me rant!

    •  Try gardening (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Oh Mary Oh, qofdisks

      or hydroponics if in an apartment without a balcony.

      NOW SHOWING
      Progressive Candidate Obama (now - Nov 6, 2012)
      Bipartisan Obama returns (Nov 7, 2012)

      by The Dead Man on Mon May 28, 2012 at 09:07:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  many frozen vegetable bags can be re-closed, with (3+ / 0-)

      a built-in zipper, or a clothes-pin, really. just take out your single serving and put the rest back in the freezer!

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Tue May 29, 2012 at 12:03:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, that's what I do... now. (0+ / 0-)

        But it didn't occur to me back when I worked outside the home and didn't think about eating good food as much as I do now. I suspect there are other people that have so little time to reflect that your simple zipper bag solution simply doesn't occur to them.

    •  Buy your produce fresh when possible and (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      BornAgainLiberal

      freeze it yourself in small freezer bags.  i do that as produce is cheaper in season.  I also dry produce.  Take the one portion size bags suck all the air out with a straw, seal them and then put them all in a gallon freezer bag.
      Freezing may require some home processing such as blanching, or fire grilling etc.

      •  I also do this with meat. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Noddy, BornAgainLiberal

        I buy in bulk and break up the meat in one meal portions and freeze in small one meal portion bags.  I use a quart bag of a meal for 2-3.  Do not suck the air out with a straw but just squeeze out as much air as you can with your hands.  You can throw a marinade or brine in with the meat.  
        Do this job with a sink full of hot soapy water with a squirt of bleach handy and a clean tea towel.  Wipe down everything the meat touches as you go.  Wash your hands in the water every time you handle the outside of a freezer bag.  Throw your tea towel used for the job in the (whites) dirty clothes immediately upon finishing.

        You can always bag cooked food or freeze food in those cheap storage plastic containers.  
        If you are trying to avoid plastic, you can freeze in glass jars that are not filled up all the way.  Butcher paper is ok too.

    •  There are those types of baby food. (0+ / 0-)

      They come in tube like packets. Look up Ella's Kitchen and Peter Rabbit. They are not frozen or refrigerated. You can squeeze them out onto a spoon or directly into baby's mouth. Refrigerate unused portions.

    •  As a singlton (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Noddy

      I would welcome smaller packages of all sorts of things (i.e. bread).  Instead I buy the bigger, and immediately portion out and freeze what I know I can't use within a week.
      A lot of frozen fruits and vegetables now come in resealable bags, though, so look for those.

    •  Packaging. (0+ / 0-)

      It's more expensive, both ecologically and production-wise, to package and sell individual sized portions - and most people dispute what the manufacturer considers a "single portion" size, so there's also that.

      Buy in bulk - the largest frozen food package of whatever vegetable you're buying, then repackage it at home in reuseable, individual portion containers. The environment and your pocketbook will thank you.

    •  Have you considered a (0+ / 0-)

      Baby Bullet? You don't have to buy the machines, but they can allow you to make baby food as you travel, as they are portable and all you need is an electrical outlet to steam and puree the food to feed the baby.  Or, without the machines, you can use the storage containers for the baby food you make ahead of time and carry with you in an ice chest.

      •  Considered 1--now dd is old enough to refuse puree (0+ / 0-)

        This is the first major trip I've taken since she was born, and she can eat cut up fruit and veggies now--I think I'm going to have to take pre-cut fruit and veggies (and Cheerios) along for the trip. She can also eat a PB sandwich, thankfully.  Hopefully we can avoid having her actually eat on the plane, or there will be food bits all over the place with no way to pick them up.

        I used a blender & my freezer when she was younger.  Going to have to increase the portion sizes of the prepared foods and use them for everyone now. :)

  •  www.farmaid.org may interest you (6+ / 0-)

    I'm amazed about how many people don't have a clue. On the other hand the more you know the more you are terrified to eat anything.

    I gave up on the government to look out for us a long time ago. The people are making the difference through the power of their consumer dollar, their home gardens and sharing the truth with their neighbors.

    Thanks for writing this diary. At some point the government  will listen to the people over the big agriculture interests because people will demand it en masse.

  •  I just turned our rose garden into a (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Noddy, Yo Bubba

    food garden :)

    Small start - tomatoes and herbs, carrots, garlic spears and will have various beans as crop cover.  Also have lavender and some echinacea growing around it, too,.

    Take that Monsanto! Who a certain someone appointed as head of the FDA...

    What we put in our bodies and into the mouths of our babies is very political.  

    Fast food places are called CHAINS for a reason.  They turn workers into slaves and I think one has to have given up on humankind to even think of eating from one of those stinkholes.  

    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace." ~Jimi Hendrix

    by Damnit Janet on Tue May 29, 2012 at 11:36:01 AM PDT

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