One big reason we’re all so fat
Why are we all so fat? The answer Carson Chow came up with is both surprising and obvious. The National Institutes of Health mathematician crunched years worth of numbers to get the following result: Too much cheap food.
In an interview he gave to The New York Times, he notes that since the 1970s the national obesity rate has jumped from 20 percent to about 30 percent. “The epidemic was caused by the overproduction of food in the United States,” he says. “Well, what do people do when there is extra food around? They eat it!” It doesn’t help that the cheapest option is often the junkiest.
Chow might as well have said we’re fat because of the Farm Bill. Since the 1970s the Bill has directed billions of dollars to farmers who grow corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton – and so the market is flooded with chips, pancake mix, and corn pops. How about financial support for the farmers who raise livestock and grow vegetables and fruit? Not so much – and that is pretty much why potato chips are cheaper than apples and carrots.
The Farm Bill is up for renewal this September, which explains another recent news item: Chef Mario Batali is wrapping up a week on a food stamp diet, which means he and his family of four are living on $31.48 per person per week. Batali tried to work his magic on beans and rice but by day four he announced he was “@#$% starving!” Why’d he do it? To protest potential cuts to food benefits, which are used by more than 46 million Americans.
This affects all of us
The Farm Bill controls not only food stamps, it also affects farm payments, international trade, conservation programs, opportunities in rural communities, agriculture research, food safety, and more. Since it was passed in the 1930s to protect farmers socked by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, it has become one of most influential pieces of legislation in our history – and among the most controversial. It has been blamed not only for American obesity, but for the shift to monoculture, the marginalization of family farms, and the destruction of local agrarian economies around the world, among many other problems.
Many see this year as an opportunity to redress old wrongs. The Senate version of the bill, for instance, drops direct payments because just about everyone believes it’s unfair. But since there’s less money to go around this time, fewer dollars are being put aside to help young farmers starting out and fewer are going to support locally grown food.
Given the power this bill has to shape the way we grow and distribute our food, the political wrangling over what to include and what to leave out will likely continue right up until the expiration date – and maybe beyond. The American Sustainable Business Council is among those groups predicting the back-and-forth will continue into next year.
And therein lies your opportunity to have a say. At the moment the bill is being tracked by many excellent organizations. Among the best is the Environmental Working Group, which does its homework and is working hard to rally support for meaningful change. Right now it’s trying to gather signatures for a petition to divert subsidies into fresh fruits and vegetables to be served daily to the 30 million kids in federal school lunch programs.
Go ahead click, and send your vote to Washington. If more of us team up maybe more farmers can afford to grow food that builds strong, healthy bodies and one day potato chips will be more expensive than fresh sustainably grown apples.
-Clare Ellis, Media Chief, Good Food Media Group