Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I. M. F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessorв.
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Expect to hear the phrases в. But it turns out that too much food can be nearly as big a problem as too little в. At his valedictory press conference in 2. Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, offered a chilling warning, saying, в. Markets for alternative kinds of food в.
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Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that в. True, this is easier said than done в. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food. How We Got Here. Before setting out an agenda for reforming the food system, itв.
It is no small thing for an American to be able to go into a fast- food restaurant and to buy a double cheeseburger, fries and a large Coke for a price equal to less than an hour of labor at the minimum wage в. Rather, it is the product of a specific set of government policies that sponsored a shift from solar (and human) energy on the farm to fossil- fuel energy. Did you notice when you flew over Iowa during the campaign how the land was completely bare в?
After World War II, the government encouraged the conversion of the munitions industry to fertilizer в. One secretary of agriculture after another implored them to plant в. As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution в. The former problem is remedied with fossil- fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all. What was once a regional food economy is now national and increasingly global in scope в.
About that particular swap the economist Herman Daly once quipped, в. Even if we were willing to continue paying the environmental or public- health price, weв.
But as is so often the case, a crisis provides opportunity for reform, and the current food crisis presents opportunities that must be seized. In drafting these proposals, Iв. First, your administrationв. Resolarizing the American Farm.
What happens in the field influences every other link of the food chain on up to our meals в. Right now, the government actively discourages the farmers it subsidizes from growing healthful, fresh food: farmers receiving crop subsidies are prohibited from growing в.
Because the greater the diversity of crops on a farm, the less the need for both fertilizers and pesticides. The power of cleverly designed polycultures to produce large amounts of food from little more than soil, water and sunlight has been proved, not only by small- scale в. There, in a geography roughly comparable to that of the American farm belt, farmers have traditionally employed an ingenious eight- year rotation of perennial pasture and annual crops: after five years grazing cattle on pasture (and producing the worldв. Or, for that matter, many pesticides: the weeds that afflict pasture canв.
Begin with the subsidies: payment levels should reflect the number of different crops farmers grow or the number of days of the year their fields are green в. Because in recent years fossil- fuel- based fertility has been so much cheaper and easier to use than sun- based fertility. In addition to rewarding farmers for planting cover crops, we should make it easier for them to apply compost to their fields в.
A program to make municipal composting of food and yard waste mandatory and then distributing the compost free to area farmers would shrink Americaв. Longer term, the government should back ambitious research now under way (at the Land Institute in Kansas and a handful of other places) to в. Animals on pasture can also harvest their own feed and dispose of their own waste в? Three struts, each put into place by federal policy, support the modern CAFO, and the most important of these в.
Meat and milk production represent the food industryв. The key question you must be prepared to answer is simply this: Can the sort of sustainable agriculture youв. The simplest and most honest answer is that we donв. There is no reason to think that bringing the same sort of resources to the development of more complex, sun- based agricultural systems wouldnв. According to a recent University of Michigan study, merely bringing international yields up to todayв. We can expect that a food system that produces somewhat less food but of a higher quality will produce healthier populations.
The final point to consider is that 4. Provided the developed world can cut its consumption of grain- based animal protein and ethanol, there should be plenty of food for everyone в. Farming without fossil fuels в. This suggests that sustainable agriculture will be easier to implement in the developing world, where large rural populations remain, than in the West, where they donв. Post- oil agriculture will need a lot more people engaged in food production в. The average American farmer today is 5.
As a society, we devalued farming as an occupation and encouraged the best students to leave the farm for в. We need more highly skilled small farmers in more places all across America в. We simply will not be able to depend on distant sources of food, and therefore need to preserve every acre of good farmland within a dayв. In the same way that when we came to recognize the supreme ecological value of wetlands we erected high bars to their development, we need to recognize the value of farmland to our national security and require real- estate developers to do в. We should also create tax and zoning incentives for developers to incorporate farmland (as they now do в. And it will generate tens of millions of new в. Resolarizing the food system means building the infrastructure for a regional food economy в.
The best way to protect our food system against such threats is obvious: decentralize it. Today in America there is soaring demand for local and regional food; farmersв. Here are a few: Four- Season Farmersв. Provide grants to towns and cities to build year- round indoor farmersв. Food- safety regulations must be made sensitive to scale and marketplace, so that a small producer selling direct off the farm or at a farmersв.
This is not because local food wonв. In the same way the shift to alternative energy depends on keeping oil prices relatively stable, the sun- food agenda в. In the same way that federal procurement is often used to advance important social goals (like promoting minority- owned businesses), we should require that some minimum percentage of government food purchases в. To channel even a small portion of institutional food purchasing to local food would vastly expand regional agriculture and improve the diet of the millions of people these institutions feed. Create a Federal Definition of в. Because it is, nominally, a food, albeit a в. Defining what constitutes real food worthy of federal support will no doubt be controversial (youв.
At a stroke, such a definition would improve the quality of school lunch and discourage sales of unhealthful products, since typically only в. We should expand the WIC program that gives farmersв. We need to use all the tools at our disposal в. We need to bring the same commitment to в. On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary- school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals. To change our childrenв.
And we should immediately increase school- lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day в. Indeed, there is no reason that public- health campaigns about the dangers of obesity and Type 2 diabetes shouldnв. In general we should push for as much transparency in the food system as possible в. Oil is one of the most important ingredients in our food, and people ought to know just how much of it theyв.
The government should also throw its support behind putting a second bar code on all food products that, when scanned either in the store or at home (or with a cellphone), brings up on a screen the whole story and pictures of how that product was produced: in the case of crops, images of the farm and lists of agrochemicals used in its production; in the case of meat and dairy, descriptions of the animalsв. Besides feeding you and your family exceptionally well, such a chef would demonstrate how it is possible even in Washington to eat locally for much of the year, and that good food neednв. You should make a point of the fact that every night youв.
The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking в. The fact that surplus produce from the South Lawn Victory Garden (and there will be literally tons of it) will be offered to regional food banks will make its own eloquent statement. Youв. Reforming the food system is not inherently a right- or- left issue: for every Whole Foods shopper with roots in the counterculture you can find a family of evangelicals intent on taking control of its family dinner and diet back from the fast- food industry в. You should support hunting as a particularly sustainable way to eat meat в. And what is a higher в. For that industry and its apologists to imply that it is somehow more в.
Yes, sun food costs more, but the reasons why it does only undercut the charge of elitism: cheap food is only cheap because of government handouts and regulatory indulgence (both of which we will end), not to mention the exploitation of workers, animals and the environment on which its putative в. Cheap food is food dishonestly priced в.
It builds on Americaв. It honors the work of American farmers and enlists them in three of the 2.