Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baby Steps to Food System Reform

I encourage you to take a few minutes to read this excellent op-ed by Jane Black that appeared in Sunday's Post regarding stagnant food policy conversations in Washington. Black, a food writer, points out that food advocates and lobbyists lack a single message and strategy and this puts them (us) at a disadvantage in the policy room. The reasons for this, of course, lie in the complexity of food issues. Black writes:

"...After all, there's no one policy for improving food in America. To bring real change, policymakers need to look at the system more holistically -- because everything, as foodies see it, is connected. Federal subsidies of grain and corn make it cheap to produce meat. Industrial meat production, which takes advantage of cheap feed, is responsible for about one-fifth of the world's greenhouse gases. Eating too much meat and too many processed foods made with corn products such as high fructose corn syrup has contributed to the sharp spike in obesity over the past 30 years..."

This passage ties food policy to energy, health care, industry, and so forth beyond agriculture but this kind of broad agenda thinking isn't getting us very far. We've got to narrow it down, take one issue and address it from start to finish. Black offers some suggestions, stemming from the successes or failures in movements like Slow Foods, Alice Waters' inaugural meals, and the "give a swordfish a break" campaign, my favorite being:

"...Advocate for radical change this year when Congress renews the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which includes $21 billion annually for programs including school breakfast and lunch. Currently, cash-strapped schools are forced to rely on government surplus and sales of soda and other junk foods, a combination that results in millions of French fry-centric meals. Stricter school nutrition standards and increased funding for fruits and vegetables could change that. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack indicated in his confirmation hearing this month that he sees better nutrition as a tool for defeating childhood hunger..."


Niko said...

Responding to the last quote of the blog:
It is a shame that children see the worst of this and become overweight during adulthood if eating habits are not changed...good post!

Deborah said...

Absolutely. Bad eating habits learned in childhood are hard to break. Not that I blame parents though... the problem is much bigger than that. Also, even good eating habits taught at home can be difficult to keep up with outside. If a child goes to school and everyone else is eating fries, chances are they will try and trade that apple, you know?