Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Star Caps and Cheeseburgers

According to the NFL and the rules they make, "players are responsible for what they put in their mouths". Some Vikings players realized that recently. Evidently that personal responsibility stops with football players.

It seems that average Susie Citizen is not responsible for causing an increase in type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease; even though it is generally agreed these conditions are caused by the food Susie and Sam Citizen feed their children and "what they put in their mouths". The media and so called "food experts" like Michael Pollen, place the blame for these diseases squarely on the federal government, cheap food policy and therefore on corn growers and livestock producers. There is something wrong with this picture.

Michael Pollen wrote an article in October 12 issue of The New York Times. The lengthy article talks about the public health of our citizens, agriculture policy, energy policy, and health care policy. Pollen suggests that the new president cannot address any of the above without dealing with food. Pollen makes many statements about our food system in the United States. He says the modern diet is a “public health” catastrophe. The implication is that the WAY we produce our food is contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Pollen further states that “the problem is, we've learned that overabundant, too cheap food can be as much a problem as too little food.” Never mind the fact that the cheap food policy means you can walk into a fast-food outlet and buy a bacon double cheeseburger, french fries, soda for less than the minimum wage.

So the problem is lots of cheap food or too little food. Given the two choices, I think most of us would choose the overabundant too cheap food, rather than too little food. I wonder if Michael Pollen has ever been hungry? Really hungry?

Pollen is highly critical of the school lunch program. He calls it a dumping ground for excess farm commodities. He suggests that we spend a dollar more per day on the lunch program and work on nutrition quality. He also suggests that every district be required to spend a certain percentage of their lunch fund dollars to buy local food within a 100-mile radius of the district. These ideas sound good, but in practice may not be very practical.


The school lunch folks have a tough row to hoe when it comes to providing nutritious fruits and vegetables that will be eaten by children contrasted with providing them and having the food left on the plate. Buying local may sound good, but even a district like St. Peter could buy corn from Seneca (local) with the corn traveling all over the Midwest before it gets to the school. Again would it be cost effective?

Pollen predicates his whole argument on the fact that the system we have in place today is possible because of cheap energy. As we saw this past year, the price of food increased dramatically because of the price of fuel. (Note: the recent decreases in fuel have not followed through to the supermarkets.) He makes a good point that there may come a time when transportation costs will not allow food processors to ship cattle or hogs across many states just to be slaughtered (probably because of cheaper labor and energy costs) and then ship the boxed meat cuts back to the Midwest for retail sale. His suggestion for regionalized food systems needs to be looked at.

Other good points in the article include: encouraging more farmer’s markets; allowing WIC vouchers at farmer’s markets; encouraging more supermarkets in urban areas; requiring developers to put aside a few acres in each housing development for community gardens; encouraging gardening; and GLORY BE TO GOD – encouraging people to cook! Yours truly feels this is the answer to the dilemma. And it has to be more than cook – we need to encourage more “cooking from scratch”. If families start their children out with home cooked food, they will be more receptive to eating healthy in school, day care, or wherever they go and it will stay with them for life.

Pollen fails in the article to even suggest that personal responsibility and making good choices has a role here. After all no one is forcing consumers to eat French fries and drink sodas. He gives cursory blame to a sedentary lifestyle. I might add that consumer’s also choose a general type of lifestyle that puts a higher value on activities other than cooking. The fast food choices we have available are wonderful – but we need to maintain a balance in everything we do. We would all benefit if we remember our mother’s or grandmother’s advice. One piece that has stayed with me is “everything in moderation”. end

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