Secretary of Food?

by | Dec 11, 2008

An article by Nicholas Kristof today in the New York Times calls on president-elect Barack Obama to rename the Secretary of Agriculture cabinet position, suggesting the new title “Secretary of Food.”

The US Department of Agriculture was originally set up at a time when over one third of Americans were involved in farming. Now less than 2 percent of Americans are farmers. Kristof makes the case that the US needs to completely restructure the way government intervenes in food policy, reflecting the new issues that confront our nation.

Changing the title of Secretary of Agriculture to Secretary of Food (in essence, changing the name of the entire agency) would imply that government interest would be for consumers and food supply rather than for industrial agriculture.

Through government subsidies, health standards, farming practices and nutrition guidelines USDA policy has a tremendous impact on how Americans eat, in terms of both quality and quantity. This is particularly important because data on how America’s eating habits are affecting the health of our citizens and climate are staggering.

Currently, USDA policies are profoundly influenced by industrial agriculture lobbyists resulting in a collection of preposterous rules and regulations aimed to boost agriculture at the expense of, well, everything else.

One of my favorite examples of this is the USDA food pyramid. That milk represents nearly 25% of your recommended daily intake (of anything) is absolutely ridiculous and a perfect example of the strong influence of the dairy industry. From a nutrition science perspective, it is impossible to see how such recommendations are in the best interest of American eaters (aka you and me). The economy is important, but our health is equally if not more important.

Whether you agree with Kristof’s argument or not, it is good to be aware of what is at stake when you think about US agriculture and food policy.

On a related topic, Michael Pollan sat down with Bill Moyers recently to discuss his article “Farmer in Chief.” The interview is available for viewing on the PBS website.

Do you trust the current USDA to set food policy?

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10 Responses to “Secretary of Food?”

  1. Darya Pino says:

    Industry trolls start pouting in 5, 4, 3, 2….

  2. Matt Shook says:

    “Industry trolls start pouting in 5, 4, 3, 2….”Hahahaha…thats hilarious.Do I trust the current USDA to set food policy? Not for a second….for a variety of reasons.The USDA caters to the corpratocracy and economy over anything else…even health. I know of one example where a beef producer wanted to test 100% of his cows for mad cow disease…so he could claim his stocks were 100% free of mad cow, and sell it for a higher price (he already knew that his stock were mad cow free). The USDA shut him down…simply because if he started this precedent, then the public may demand that all beef be tested…and that would be economically disastrous because the USDA knows mad cow is in the food supply.The way I see it the future for food is localism. Not is local food usually better for you, but it supports your local economy making where you live that much better. The massive amount of “food” produced by agribusiness is essentially fueled by oil (in machinery, fertilizer, pesticides, transportation, etc.)…and with oil having peaked this past summer, I there is no way of maintaining this type of production for very long. Not that I would eat that “food” anyways…As far as local food production is concerned the best example that I have seen is Cuba, who has already converted its infrastructure since it went through it’s “oil collapse” several decades ago. The methodology they have implemented is basically decentralized urban microfarming…simply put, a bunch of tiny farms through the neighborhoods. There are some good programs implementing this type of food production on the west coast…two of which are My Farm (San Francisco), and Your Backyard Farmer (in Portland, OR).v I see this type programs as the best method for staying local and eating high-quality organic produce in a post-oil world.The other scary side of this is the implementation of codex alimentarius. A great video about this horrific program can be found here.A bit of a ramble and I could go on forever about this…but I’m sure you all get the picture…

  3. Karin says:

    Wow. Is that pyramid really the current US food guidelines? I thought it was a joke at first. It doesn’t even make any sense, and completely maims the whole analogy of the pyramid. I’m still just speechless that this is what the food pyramid has turned in to. How is anyone supposed to follow it?! Recommending 3 cups of dairy products?! Mmmm, I’m gonna go get my daily 3 cups of cheese for dinner!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ummmmmmmm…..If you’re gonna try to convince Americans of how to do something, anything, maybe not the best idea to use Cuba as an example. Just a thought…..

  5. tbone says:

    That Pollen special is neeto, but do you really think his hippie home town local farming ideas would be practical in my concrete suburban hell?Who made that pictures? and does anyone else not understand its symbolism? The OG pyramid illustrated how portions of foods should decrease as one goes up the pyramid. This one is just a hip new way to show off the GLBU colors. As the man/woman exercises more, the recommended food intake decreases (the cross section of triangle decreases as a function of the humanoids elevation).If 90min is needed to maintain weight, why would one ever recommend 30min?Should the proverbial 2000 calorie diet numbers mean anything to me?

  6. Matt Shook says:

    @ AnonymousI’m not trying to convince “Americans”…I merely try to help people whatever their “nationality”. It’s just lines on paper to me…The simple fact is the model that is used in Cuba (regardless of where it originated) is a hell of a lot better prepared to feed its constituents in the future than anything the USDA or US government has put out.Also, I referenced that S.F. and PDX are utilizing similar models…but maybe true “Americans” consider those places to be as “backwards” as Cuba…who knows. 😉

  7. Zachary says:

    More than anything else, this just confirms to me how useless the government is when it comes to trying to either regulate industries or get people to live a certain way.The entire idea of the FDA takes responsibility out of the hands of consumers, and tells them that the government will take care of them. If we abolished said interference maybe people would pay some more attention to what they stuff in their faces (and as a side effect more people would get to read the ever interesting Darya blog!).In addition to putting some responsibility in the hands of consumers, we would take power out of the hands of all of those industry goons who just want us to buy insane amounts of twinkies! We can vote with our money rather than trying to get our government to handle them. In addition to all this, of course, in my opinion we should kill all agricultural subsidies (even those to your healthy local farms) because that just screws with the market. Now that I’m ranting, I think I’ll stop. Moral of the story: eat more veggies.

  8. Anonymous says:

    What, Z, are you just trying to win points with her or something?! ‘…eat more vegies…’And although your little anarchy sounds nice, but do you really expect a car mechanic to understand food science? Your local starbucks barista? Your Mcdonalds burger flipper? For the most part, scientists even now are only coming to an understanding of food science- Darya’s Vit D article for example. These people rely on the government to protect them, which is important. Why don’t we look at an industry that the FDA doesn’t regulate, like supplements- it is the most corrupt, shady, lie-riddin industry in the US!!! Ever clicked an add to see that Acai berry can apparently help you lose 20 lbs in a week? That is what the FDA protects us from, so stop complaining.

  9. Darya Pino says:

    @MattYes, the industry trolls have no shame. You should check out my breakfast cereal and banana diet posts. LOLThanks once again for your insight, great points to think about! The Cuban system does work nice for them. Hard to compare because of the relatively small scale though.—–@KarinSeriously! 3 cups of milk and only 2.5 cups of veggies! If I were to rearrange it to reflect science, I would put veggies where grains are, grains where milk is, oils where vegetables are, (fruit can stay). I would separate meat and beans and put animal meat where oils are. I am not sure how exactly I would deal with beans, fish and eggs, but they should probably be in different sections with beans and fish being rather large. I do not think we “need” milk.—–@tboneYes, I do think it is possible. You actually live in a rich farming area. If there were a market for locally raised organic food you could have much more of it. Hopefully someday you will.The amount of exercise needed to maintain weight varies a lot by person. They USDA added exercise to the pyramid so they could justify their exorbitant recommendations. They are actually incapable of telling anyone to eat less of anything, so all they can say is exercise more. Otherwise they would have to admit to intentionally making people obese.For you 2000 calories is probably a little low but not out of the ballpark.—–@ZachSorry, but I think I agree with anon. We had a time when there was no FDA and people were essentially being poisoned by companies.Do not underestimate the influence of money to skew science. This problem has been systematically studied and it was shown that studies funded by industry are much, much more likely to have an outcome favorable for industry than publically funded studies. Companies would make up science to sell their products, don’t doubt it for a second. The purpose of the FDA is to keep them honest, not to tell them how to run their business.Right now the USDA fights the FDA tooth and nail. Weird, huh?But ultimately you are right, eat more veggies.

  10. Michelle says:

    Secretary of Food makes sense, I think. But it won’t put any sort of end to the food lobbying and influence of big dairy and cattlemen association, etc. I really can’t wait to see how Obama handles these issues over his term.

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