NYT: new farm bill "more whole grain than white bread"

Interesting read in the New York Times over the weekend. The article provides analysis of the new farm bill, making the case that things like new programs for fruit and vegetable farmers and increased funding for organic certification are tilting U.S. farm policy is a new, more "local farm" friendly direction:

An emphasis on locally grown, healthful foods appeals to a broad base of their constituents, members of both major parties said.

“There is nothing hotter than farm to table,” said Representative Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican from a district of vast cherry orchards.

While traditional commodities subsidies were cut by more than 30 percent to $23 billion over 10 years, funding for fruits and vegetables and organic programs increased by more than 50 percent over the same period, to about $3 billion.

You can definitely see the trend.

But look at those overall numbers.

The produce aisle in a Manhattan bodega is more diverse, green, and organic than ever. Photo: David Sommerstein.

The produce aisle in a Manhattan bodega is more diverse, green, and organic than ever. Photo: David Sommerstein.

About a half dozen commodity crops – like corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, etc. – get almost eight times the amount of money that every other kind of crop gets total.

And food thinker and author Marion Nestle argues on her blog, Food Politics, that NYT's accounting is off.

The point of the article, of course, is that it's a baby step toward right-sizing an imbalanced agricultural system, as well as its mirror, the food system. Times columnist Mark Bittman half-praises First Lady Michelle Obama's healthy eating and anti-obesity projects. And he points to the FDA's proposed new nutrition labels for packaged foods as signs that, slowly, change is happening:

The label change is huge. Yes: It could be huge-er. Yes: It’s long overdue. Yes: It may be fought by industry and won’t be in place for a long time. And yes: The real key is to be eating whole foods that don’t need to be labeled.

But by including “added sugars” on the label, the F.D.A. is siding with those who recognize that science shows that added sugars are dangerous.

Do you think we are making substantial changes in the way we grow, produce, and eat food? Does it matter to you? How much change do you think we actually need?

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  1. I'm all for local, farm-to-table, improve the label, plant more fruits and vegetables. The farm bill is a major handout for agrobiz and any nibbling away around the edges is a good thing.

    However, it looks like research is showing that overall poverty is a much bigger factor in people's health than access to fresh fruits and veg. (See link below) More greens in the bodega is a lovely sight and there is no reason for us not to keep moving in the "fresh is good" direction, but we should be realistic about who it helps and who is still left out.


  2. I used to live in the Bronx and have a sister-in-law who still does.
    Many people in NYC shop almost daily at small fish, meat and vegetable stores who put much of their products in front of their stories if weather permits.
    The assortment of food is more than I have ever seen up here at any farmers market. Down there, you can get food you don't even see in the biggest grocery stores up here.
    The avacados we can get up here are babies to the one's you can get down there.
    I think the problem we have up here is the result of our lack of diversity.

  3. David asks about the way we "grow, produce, and eat food", and I would add the word MARKET to that list. We are treated like sheep in the marketplace, told what tastes best, what has the most crunch, what's most popular, but very little about what's good for us. The new labelling requirements will mostly affect those products in the middle isles of the grocery store; the prepared, packaged, preserved, and highly advertised products that are truly the worst for us. This labelling may help educate the consumer a bit, but a larger change (of mind) is required to get from Hot Pockets to healthy.

  4. I saw that NY Times article too. The point of the article was also that consumer tastes are changing which is a good thing for our locally produced farm products. It is also good for the nation's health. The amazing part is that even the Republican congressman from the Michigan agricultural region was supporting the change. When I was an agricultural student in California years ago, many things were explained as responding to the buying habits of "the American housewife". Generally that meant that fruits and vegetables had to look good, but not necessarily taste good. Looking good meant no blemishes which required lots of pesticides. They had to grow varieties that could be transported long distances and still look fresh and perfect. Otherwise their produce wouldn't sell. Its good to see that is changing.