Who Knew One Bill Could Do So Much?

A colleague recently made the comment to me – okay, fine, it was my mom who said it – that one of the reasons she tries to support small local farms is because she doesn’t support the hiring of illegal immigrants on the large farms. Or at least, that’s what I understood her statement to be – I don’t want to put words in her mouth. Her statement didn’t really hit home until I read Michael Pollan’s April 2007 article in New York Times Magazine, “You Are What You Grow.” Among other things, he talks about the upcoming Farm (Food!) Bill and its impact on immigration:

"To speak of the farm bill's influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact--on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities--or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico's eaters as well as its farmers.) You can't fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico."

There’s food for thought – pun intended. Why we all aren’t taking more interest in the Farm (Food!) Bill is beyond me. And I can’t escape judgement – I keep blabbing about it and I still don’t fully understand what the darn thing does! But I’m working on it.

Here's my favorite part of the article, the part where (once again) I step aside and let more articulate people express exactly what I want to say:

At a minimum, these eaters want a bill that aligns agricultural policy with our public-health and environmental values, one with incentives to produce food cleanly, sustainably and humanely. Eaters want a bill that makes the most healthful calories in the supermarket competitive with the least healthful ones. Eaters want a bill that feeds schoolchildren fresh food from local farms rather than processed surplus commodities from far away. Enlightened eaters also recognize their dependence on farmers, which is why they would support a bill that guarantees the people who raise our food not subsidies but fair prices. Why? Because they prefer to live in a country that can still produce its own food and doesn't hurt the world's farmers by dumping its surplus crops on their markets.



Unknown said...

What can you say about the Farm Bill? Except it is a vote getter. Nearly every man, woman, and child in the middle states is either a corn farmer, is related to a corn farmer, or depends on corn farmers for their living. The is a lot of electoral votes. Also, I have to disagree with one point he makes. When he talks about what the Eaters want... The critical missing adjective here is, educated. Educated Eaters want... Sadly, the larger percentage of Eaters, the uneducated ones, just want their food cheap. Again pointing back to politics. How many votes is a candidate likely to get if they say, "I support a bill that will most likely raise the price of food."? As is so often the case, education is the key.

Unknown said...

My mom has had a difficult time posting to Blogger but, for the record, she says that I misquoted her.

I agree with you, Adam. The article mentions "enlightened eaters." I have a real problem with that. It sounds so elitist and holier-than-thou. I like your distinction of an "educated eater" - it implies that we have absolute control over the amount of knowledge we have about the food we eat. Which, of course, we do...in spite of the government's (and corporate food industry's) efforts to keep us in the dark.