One of the great things about doing this blog is that it gives me a forum to express my thoughts and concerns. Looking at the title many of my regular readers are probably wondering why is a political guy doing a food column. I assure you what follows is steeped in political policy. Let’s explore.
Most Americans don’t eat as healthy of a diet as they should. Part of that has to do with lifestyles. It is simply too easy (and tasty) to grab a quick burger, soda and fries while driving from Point A to Point B. I’m not going to talk about that today; I want to talk about what we eat at home.
I have talked to women from many different economic brackets about why they don’t feed their families healthier foods. Overwhelmingly the answer that comes back is, “I can’t afford it; it’s too expensive.” In the case of the very poorest and those with extremely limited transportation assets food deserts are also a factor, but that is a topic for another day and not the most widely spread problem in our system. (My proposal would go a long way toward solving that problem also.)
My theory is that bottom line we subsidize the wrong foods. I’m a big city boy and have never been a farmer. That being said I favor agricultural subsidies and realize their importance. (The distribution of the subsidies should be amended; that again is a story for another day.) I like to eat and can’t survive without eating. The farmers who grow the food I eat not only bring me pleasure; they literally keep me and everyone I care about alive.
Why do the agriculture subsidies go where they do? The answer is political clout and lobbying. (Iowa, a largely agricultural state, holding the nation’s first primary every presidential cycle doesn’t hurt the cause of agriculture any!) Programs like SNAP come out of the agriculture budget. I assert that feeding the poor is actually the secondary concern; subsidizing the producers of certain crops being the primary.
I know every crop cannot be grown in every region of the country but my theory is that it would be in the national interest to incentivize farmers to grow alternative healthier crops in the process making them more affordable at the supermarket. I realize this is not simply a matter of planting a different seed; it is much more complex than that! This would have to be instituted over a considerable period of time starting with research at the agricultural college level followed by a program of training and assistance for the farmers of the region. That would have to include affordable financing programs for the new equipment necessary to plant, produce and harvest the new crops.
America is an overweight nation. Much of that excess weight is the result of not eating as healthy as we should. That extra weight contributes to several diseases that dramatically increase our medical costs most notably diabetes. If as a nation we ate better and lost some extra pounds we would be healthier thereby reducing our massive health care costs.
I’ve just thrown out some ideas today. Careful, unbiased, study is needed by people much more knowledgeable about agriculture, nutrition and health care than I am. I would be interested in the long-term costs of such a program. It is important to take into consideration what I am certain would be long-term health care cost savings as well as the benefits from greater productivity from a healthier workforce. This would call for an effort from a lot of people particularly in agriculture. I know a lot of people affected by such a program would understandably not be jumping for joy at the prospect of making a lot of changes.
There would be winners and losers as there are with any change. A healthier, more productive nation sounds like a hell of a reward to me! I certainly think it is worth exploring.
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