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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Farm Bill and Public Health (part 8)

Uploaded: Apr 30, 2023

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

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Trevor James , a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis,
on May 3, 2023 at 9:48 am

Trevor James is a registered user.

How does one (let alone the government) promote or mandate 'healthy eating' on the part of consumers?

Recommendations can be provided but as the old adage goes, "one can lead a horse to water but..."

Would a snack tax work to discourage the purchase of non-nutritional junk foods?

Would restricting SNAP benefits to only fruits, vegetables, meat/dairy, and whole grains suffice?

Or maybe some USDA sponsored TV public service announcements depicting the perils of poor nutrition?

Frito Lay and the various fast-food giants are quite confident that they will never go out of business because a sizable number of Americans do not care about their diet or personal health habits.

Posted by Michael Coulter, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 3, 2023 at 12:45 pm

Michael Coulter is a registered user.

"....a sizable number of Americans do not care about their diet or personal health habits."

^ True...regardless of one's socio-economic background, some people will always be drawn to the excessive consumption of refined sugar, sodium, empty calories, processed foods, fast food, and alcohol...and that's their problem (not mine) because personally speaking, I don't care about other people's poor health especially if they are doing nothing constructive to improve their personal lives.

Posted by Beverly Collins, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 3, 2023 at 1:30 pm

Beverly Collins is a registered user.

There's absolutely no excuse for obesity if one adheres to the nutritional guidelines cited in this blog and exercises regularly. Even a short walk is health beneficial.

The 'excessive consumptions' noted by the previous poster need to be curtailed by some, especially among those whose BMI is in excess of 28.

Posted by Laura Stec, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 3, 2023 at 3:56 pm

Laura Stec is a registered user.

The issue in front of us is not mandating eating styles - people will eat what they want.

The question is what type of food system do we, the taxpayers, want to subsidize? Do we want to make corn syrup and Doritos more affordable, or would we prefer giving fruits and vegetables that assistance?

Posted by Elizabeth Collins, a resident of Woodside,
on May 3, 2023 at 5:14 pm

Elizabeth Collins is a registered user.

Given that a regular-sized bag of Doritos or Lays Potato Chips now runs close to $6.00 the last time I bought them, many folks would probably prefer to see a reduction in price on both snack foods and soft drinks.

Since Doritos and corn syrup both are both made from corn, corn growers shouldn't have any problems getting by because corn is also used to feed cattle and for other products like cornmeal and grits.

Wheat growers should also be doing OK because wheat is a key ingredient of most baked goods and the production of macaroni/pasta.

And with the increasing Asian population in the United States, there will always be a steady consumer market for rice.

Fruits and vegetables are another story as there are many to choose from.

Posted by Laura Stec, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on May 3, 2023 at 7:31 pm

Laura Stec is a registered user.

Well, we're going to have to meet 1/2 way then. If someone wants to subsidize junk food so be it, but I get to subsidize fruits and veggies. Maybe more so because they have been marginalized for so long? Junk food can't take it all. Reparations to the fruits and veggies!

Posted by Heloise Miller, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 5, 2023 at 8:49 am

Heloise Miller is a registered user.

According to the TV commercials, Balance of Nature vitamins cover all of the healthy nutritional benefits of eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Though all vitamins should be viewed as nutritional supplements, taking multi-vitamins on a daily basis easily allows one to consume the various processed/junk food offerings that may lack nutritional value.

The key is to enjoy those soft drinks, chips, french fries, pizzas, hamburgers, hot dogs, pork rinds, and candy bars but on a moderate basis.

Lastly, since much of our fresh produce now comes from Mexico, will the USDA consider providing agricultural subsidies for Mexican farmers and growers?

This measure could in turn reduce illegal immigration to a certain extent as many of the fieldwork occupations and opportunities would remain in Mexico.

Posted by Rhonda MacKenzie, a resident of Community Center,
on May 5, 2023 at 9:46 am

Rhonda MacKenzie is a registered user.

Those Balance of Nature vitamins are very expensive given that a month's supply is $89.95 for two bottles (just the Fruits & Veggies).

Three veggie and three fruit pills (total six) are the recommended daily dosages and each bottle contains just 90 capsules which amounts to a month's supply (30 days).

The Costco multi-vitamins are a much better deal for those so inclined.

What consumers really need are protein pills that eliminate the need for consuming meat and/or tofu *ugh*.

Posted by Barry Kline, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 5, 2023 at 11:47 am

Barry Kline is a registered user.

Convenience stores like 7-11 and service station markets also need to improve the quality of their healthy foods offerings.

Brown bananas and mushy apples are not the way to promote Ms. Stec's vision.

I would rather buy a Coke and a bag of chips rather than eating spoiled or rotten fruit.

For others, a dried-out hot dog on heated rollers is a better alternative than buying old fruit that is better left to livestock.

Posted by Food4Thought, a resident of another community,
on May 5, 2023 at 4:22 pm

Food4Thought is a registered user.

It is a well-known fact among serious cooks and diners that the better something tastes, chances are it is probably bad for you in larger doses.

Examples include: lard VS crisco, butter VS margarine, refined sugar VS artificial sweeteners, a nicely marbled USDA Prime steak VS a leaner cut (i.e. Choice, Select) etc.

Life is too short to make overly harsh and arbitrary detours from FlavorTown...just ask Guy Fieri.

As for basic fruits...a banana, orange, or an apple should suffice.

Vegetables are an individual call...according to late President Ronald Reagan, ketchup (a condiment) counts as a vegetable so I imagine salsa, pico de Gallo, guacamole, potatoes, and peanuts are also considered vegetables (to some).

No one should be held hostage to a produce stand.

Posted by Gerald Butler, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 6, 2023 at 8:50 am

Gerald Butler is a registered user.

Grain products like rice and wheat are overproduced which is why they are subsidized by the USDA and many fruits and vegetables are grown year-round in Mexico and California.

The Midwestern grain farmers should be encouraged to reduce their grain output even further since much of their surplus harvests are now resting in huge silos with nowhere else to go.

Donating the surplus grains to starving 3rd world countries as a humanitarian gesture is not a viable option because in many instances, the shipments are hijacked by profiteering warlords.

Despite the idealistic 'Green Acres' theme song, farming is a dull and thankless occupation best left to those who actually enjoy toiling in the dirt.

Posted by Hilda Beacham, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 6, 2023 at 10:52 am

Hilda Beacham is a registered user.

Subsidizing some fruits and vegetables makes sense providing they have an extended shelf life which could curtail overproduction.

Perhaps best to only subsidize the practical fruits that can be made into preserves, pie fillings, and fruit leathers along with certain vegetables that can be easily flash-frozen.

With the possible exception of potatoes, various onions, and carrots, most root vegetable production could also be reduced for there is no real money to be made growing rutabagas and parsnips.

Lastly, the government should encourage Americans to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains by offering buyer incentives like a rewards program that pays dividends...not necessarily in extended health benefits but in CASH, consumer electronics such as Apple iPhones and big screen TVs, vacation getaways, concert tickets, free gasoline, and North Face/Patagonia clothing discounts.

Posted by Li Jiang, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 6, 2023 at 12:41 pm

Li Jiang is a registered user.

Most Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are far less expensive than meat and processed foods including snack items.

Chinese people eat plenty of fresh vegetables. Meat (primarily pork and chicken) is used sparingly in our stir-fry dishes and tofu is also an option.

This is one reason why obese Asians are a rarity.

Posted by Dan Kendricks, a resident of another community,
on May 6, 2023 at 2:41 pm

Dan Kendricks is a registered user.

One can subside on beef jerky, trail mix (nuts, raisins, M&Ms) and potable water when push comes to shove.

Along with a good multi-viramin there is minimal need to go grocery shopping or cook if one is so inclined.

In addition to our seasonal vegetable garden (corn, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini) we also have orange, lemon, apricot, and almond trees in our back yard.

The only thing missing are chickens which we are not allowed to raise in our neighborhood as per city ordinance.

Instead we raise rabbits which is very similar in taste to chicken and far leaner.

Add a 50 lb. sack of rice and we are good to go.

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