Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?
For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system â€” indeed, to a considerable extent, for the worldâ€™s food system.
An interesting look at the way we get our food, why we pay what we do at the checkout aisle, and why those in poverty face obesity:
For the last several decades â€” indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning â€” U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.
Thatâ€™s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both).
The way low-income households deal with food scarcity is something I’ve blogged about in the past. It’s simply cheaper for low-income families to eat less nutritious foods. When you’re worried about paying the rent/mortgage, or whether you’ll be able to put gas in the car this week, or if you’ll have enough money to pay for prescriptions, making healthy choices in the supermarkets becomes a secondary concern.
It’s nice, however, to see the NY Times pick it up. If you want more information on poverty in America, I’d recommend this special report by The American Prospect. From the introduction:
In assigning and editing these articles, we were struck by a paradox. There is now growing ideological convergence on what it takes to end poverty. Liberals and conservatives agree that ending poverty is about both personal behaviors and rewards to work; about both values and economics. Ending poverty requires opportunities for wealth creation as well as income support, empowerment as well as transfer payments. It requires all children to be school-ready, which takes both stronger families and more effective public programs.
Yet mocking this hopeful consensus there is a disabling one. Too many elected officials, both liberal and conservative, believe that we know what to do, but just canâ€™t afford it — whether because of budget deficits, or entitlement overloads, or national security demands. There is no shortage of good pilot programs, but time and again we hear that there is no money to take them to scale.
We disagree. This nation, on average, is twice as rich as in the 1960s. If America is to compete in a global economy, and honor its ideals, we canâ€™t afford to waste a single American. There is no good excuse for failing to end poverty in our lifetime.