Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On Food and Tom Vilsack

I've spent a lot of time in the past few months pondering the whole 'food' question. Namely, how are we producing it and why, who are the losers, who are the winners, and what the hell do we do now?

Some of the things I've learnt: 

The giant grocery stores are squeezing everyone dry. Walmart and Tesco may offer low prices, but those low prices come at a very, very steep price.

The money in food comes at the value-added step. So, simply harvesting cash crops doesn't allow for much of an income. The real money is in the processing.

Famines can occur even when there is food IN THE VILLAGE if people can't pay for the food. There have even been situations in history where the food supply has been taken AWAY from a famine stricken village to a city because no one in the village could afford the food.

On the other hand, when you give food away for free, like the controversial US Food Aid program, you risk depressing local farmers' wages even further.

GM crops *might* have a place. But we need to be really careful in figuring out what that place is.

Rules governing worldwide trade forbid many third world countries from placing subsidies or tariffs on food crops, but the US is still allowed to subsidize their corn.

The food situation is extremely complex, there are no easy answers, but I do believe that the way that we're doing things now simply reinforces current power structures that keeps the first world dominant over the third world.

I don't know what we do about our damn food situation. But I do know this: we need a major change. And unfortunately our "change" president has saw fit to appoint a "more of the same" Secretary of Agriculture. 

People. I cannot repeat this enough. Just because a Democrat will be in office, doesn't mean we can take our eyes off the ball. Vilsack might be our new Sec of Ag, but that doesn't mean we have to take things lying down. As Green Bean writes, we need to constantly be pestering him and Obama both.

Because at the end of the day, what's more important than the food you eat?


Anonymous said...

Right on! They get so much pressure from agribusiness, regular citizens *have* to keep the pressure up.

Okay, i have to disclose that I'm from Iowa & I have a raving crush on Vilsack because of his stance on gay marriage & support of pastured pork.

But the thing is, anyone from Iowa should understand what happens when all the local farms go belly up. (unfortunately, not everybody does. But it's pretty visible around there - it takes a pretty harsh ideological lense to miss it) And the key to international food aid being a stopgap (say, in times of war, economic collapse, or drought) is that it *not* destroy local farmers. Because in a year or two, when the aid goes away, they need to be there, growing food.

So if we can get the Ag department to realize that the local farmers in Zimbabwe and Somalia and Colombia suffer from the same pressures that crushed local farmers in Winterset and Sioux City, we might make some progress.

ruchi said...

Hey! I'm glad Vilsack is pro gay marriage and pro pastured pork! Thanks for telling me that Rosa, that makes me feel slightly better about him. :)

And you're totally right about international food aid. Let's see if we can bring about some much needed changes in ag policies....

Green Bean said...

I'm with you, Ruchi, glad to hear he's pro gay and pro pastured pork. Let's get some of the other items on the agenda too. I don't know what we do but I do know we don't give up. We support the food system we want with our dollars, our votes and our keyboards. Fantastic to see you today!! :)

Anonymous said...

What gets me the most about this pick is that Vilsack seems to have zero interest in ag. His main interest, apart from career politics, is energy. I looked into his old site when he was running for 08, and his Facebook. Nada.

Anonymous said...

bravo commentary ....nothing is more important than fueling our very beings....nothing