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A Call for Gastronomic Revolution: The Farm Bill and Why It Needs to Change

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What with all the political hubbub brewing this year over issues like The War, immigration, abortion, political corruption, we’re pretty sure the Farm Bill is going to get the shaft as far as public conversation is concerned – just like in 2002, when its passing was totally overshadowed by 9/11 and the ensuing hysteria.

Frankly, it’s a damn shame. This is one issue that actually has a chance of raising bipartisan support – even the religious folks are getting behind this one! And more importantly, you don’t need to do much research to realize that the food industry in this country is totally f%@ed up – obesity is becoming one of the major health threats in the United States, e. coli is spreading unchecked, and have you tasted the chicken from your local Ralph’s lately? Dry, bland, and chock full of hormones – appetizing, huh?

The Farm Bill that passed in 2002, a piece of legislation which privileged subsidies for agro-industry over funding for conservation and nutrition programs, has only made a bad situation worse. And if the new bill passes unchanged in 2008, we’re going to see these epidemics of disease and obesity continue.

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So how does a complicated and nightmarishly bureaucratic bill manage to have all these effects on our food? As Michael Pollan so rigorously and reliably explains, the Farm Bill ensures that government subsidies are provided mostly to producers of five major cash crops (corn, wheat, rice, soy, and cotton), which can be transformed into domestic food product, exported worldwide, and used as feed for factory farm animals. Farmers are encouraged to overproduce crops, knowing they'll get paid, but the surplus supply does screwy things with demand - forcing the government to make sure all that extra corn and soy gets remade and refined into various super-sugars and vegetable-derived trans fats - which make items like the Big Mac and the McGriddle cheap and widely available.

What the Farm Bill doesn’t do is encourage enough diversity in cultivation and programs for land conservation. When all is said and done, farmers still don’t get paid enough to feed their families despite twenty billion dollars worth of government subsidization. The mass production and distribution of crops means that animals and people get sicker faster and more efficiently, and third world countries stop cultivating their own corn because they can get it cheaper from the States. The surplus of corn that is created goes back into making processed foods that are now cheaper than fresh fruits and veggies, making all of us fatter. And now they’re trying to make us even more dependent on corn by touting ethanol as the problem to all of our energy woes? Sorry, guys. I ain’t buying.

Well, is there anything we can do about it?

Yes, actually – there’s a lot you can do about it, and it’s pretty easy to start.

Photo by libraryman via flickr