Sex, Obesity and the Farm Bill

Author: Kate Fitzgerald (inspired by Katerina Tang and Liza Baker)

I have been blogging for two years about Washington, DC legislative action on farm policy, and after being outgunned by an upstart 13-year-old, I have decided I must make my blog posts more hit-worthy. After consulting my Google Analytics experts, I learned that the first step was to make the Farm Bill sexier. I had to discard various titles, including ‘Sex and the Farm Bill,’ when FFN’s President’s eyebrows shot up to the ceiling…and got stuck there.

So instead, I decided to take a look at why a blog about obesity and the healthcare costs for Medicare and Medicaid would outrank my Farm Bill posts (by a large margin, I might bitterly add, we’re talking factors of ten here). Does “obesity” really outrank “farm” on blog readers’ sexiness and interestingness Richter scale? 

If people really want to read about obesity and healthcare costs, so be it. But we’ll have to talk about food, too, and food comes from farms, and what farmers grow, where and how they grow it comes from the Farm Bill. Good, I’m happy again now that I’m back on familiar ground and maybe some readers are still with me.

Let’s start with several basic ideas that we can all agree on. Americans want to be able to buy delicious and healthy food at reasonable prices in the neighborhoods where we live and work. We want farmers to be able to grow good food, make a decent living, and raise their children in rural communities that offer them the promise of a good future. We want to protect the soil and water that provides the natural resources necessary for our food and for the parks that give us nice places to go on vacation. We don’t want our neighbors going hungry, and we sure don’t want the people who pick and process our food to be poverty-stricken.

Fair enough: none of this seems either controversial or impossible. So why are we in the midst of a national health crisis, the costs of which a 13-year-old can point out is mortgaging her future, while at the same time failing to pass the largest piece of national food legislation that has repeatedly garnered bipartisan support?

It is absolutely true that nothing in policy is easy, and that there are always trade-offs. Farmers can’t profit at the expense of people not being able to afford food, and low-income Americans should not be relegated to eating cheap food that causes health conditions that tighten the grip of poverty. Democracy is a constant discussion, a negotiation in which we experiment with new ideas and try to balance the needs of all in a changing environment.

No approach is ever perfect, and no piece of legislation will ever make everyone happy. The question is, does the approach move the country forward toward some set of commonly agreed upon goals for the nation?  As Katerina Tang so clearly pointed out, Americans have every right to be concerned about our collective health now. Chronic diseases rooted in poor nutrition are costing taxpayers in healthcare costs, are sapping business productivity, and are inhibiting individual potential. There is a clear common interest in policy that will help more of us have access to healthy affordable food and support the farmers who want to grow that food. Double Up Food Bucks for SNAP participants is exactly the kind of common sense experiment that democracy is all about. It’s working in Michigan. Maybe it will work in other states, too. As Katerina reported, investments in programs that improve nutrition save the country money.

Why would we wait on a Farm Bill this year?  It may not be sexy, but it would do something about the problems people care about.  Whether they know it or not.