Happy Ag Day!

On this day, we celebrate agriculture's abundance ... and the subsidies that determine what is grown. As this cartoon, which is featured in Eat Drink Vote, reminds us, the small farmer is being overshadowed by big agricultural companies that influence how government subsidies are allocated.

Here's a link to the day's events that have been organized by the group behind Ag Day - The Agriculture Council of America. Notice anything about the events? Yep - they are all in Washington, D.C. Not many farmers there. Guess that the farmers will have to celebrate elsewhere.
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Coming to a Mall Near You: Fresh Food!

farmersfridge_red

While the passage of the food bill reminds us about the challenges of changing the food environment, it is nice to see how an entrepreneur can overcome the obstacles and marketing of the established food industry. Farmer's Fridge, founded by Luke Sanders, is a fresh food "kiosk" in two Chicago locations with plans to expand.

Farmers Fridge aims to provide food that is good for you and for the planet. Their menu shows that food that is good for you does not have to be overly processed or loaded with sugar. This is a great opportunity to vote with your fork if you live in Chicago! Bon Apetit!

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Fun new term: Food Swamp

We came across this term in a segment on NPR about the top health concerns of Latinos. It was coined by Alex Ortega, a public health researcher and professor of public health at UCLA, to describe areas where healthy food is hard to find.

Ortega is one of several people involved in an interesting effort in East Los Angeles to learn more about how the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables relates to overall health and diabetes in particular. The project involves multiple facets including lifestyle adjustments and education about nutrition.

The initial results will not be a surprise to those familiar with a key tenet in Eat Drink Vote: that voting with your fork helps to create a healthier food system. The project in East Los Angeles finds that when healthy food choices have a level playing food - meaning that the in-store support for less healthy food options is decreased - shoppers will make choices that contribute to a healthier diet.
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Trick or treat?!

Halloween is a wonderful example of some of what is discussed in Eat Drink Vote: it combines marketing to children with support for a product (i.e., candy) that depends heavily on government subsidy for its ingredients. And - the marketing works!

Here are a few pieces of information picked up in a quick perusal of the web:
- 10% (or nearly $2 billion )of the annual $24 billion candy sales occur in the few days before Halloween. (Source: Dailyinfographic.com)
- This includes approximately 90 million pounds of chocolate candy - which is nearly twice the 48 million pounds of chocolate sold at Valentine's Day. (Source: Nielsen Wire)
- Total money spent for Halloween-related candy and merchandise is growing - quickly. Sales are projected to total $13 billion in 2013, up from $3.29 billion in 2005 - a whooping increase of nearly 300% in just a few years. (Source: National Retail Federation)

So, if you want to be part of the change in the food movement, you might want to keep this in mind, if not for this year than for future years. There is a really good chance that the candy in your grocery store got there this year - and probably next year as well - due to marketing targeted to consumers and retailers as well as ongoing lobbying support for ingredients in candy. A question to ask yourself might be: Is the Halloween candy a treat for me or for the manufacturers of the candy?
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Profit is Most Important Ingredient

As Marion Nestle notes in Eat Drink Vote "Food marketers, of course, are in business and always looking for ways to cut costs and increase profits."

Yes, food marketers aim to make products that people want but their ability to stay in business depends on their ability to make a profit. So, profit has to be the first objective. When consumers account for the profit motive, they can look at food marketing and packaging through a slightly different lens. Additionally, consumers can act on this knowledge by "voting" with their purchases for those companies that work to promote the health of their customers and the planet.

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Eating Less In An “Eat More” Environment

The challenge to eat the right amount is part of the human condition. Marion Nestle notes "Dieting to lose weight is as old as recorded history. Hippocrates discussed diets and dieting in the pre-Chtristian era, and today's diet books are perennial bestsellers." (p.42 of Eat Drink Vote).

As the environment has shifted from one of scarcity to "eat more," human physiology and personal responsibility have faced a tough challenge. We'll focus on "eating better" in future posts but for now we note that dieting is as old as we are and it is not getting any easier.
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Worldwide Hunger Goes Up

The simultaneous gains in obesity and hunger share a common root: The competing interests of corporations and people are represented unequally in the food environment. In the post-Citizen's United world, we might say that the interests of people people are secondary to those of corporation people. This is especially true when the people people are international and don't recognize that the decisions made by the US Congress affect the availability and price of food in their countries.

One example of this is the increasing use of grain to for biofuels. As noted in Eat Drink Vote, "... US farmers responded to congressional incentives by planting corn and soybeans for biofuels. Economists consider this use of food crops for fuel to be the single most important reason for the recent sharp rise in worldwide food prices and worldwide hunger. Millions of people suddenly could not afford to buy the food they need."

Vote with your time: If this interest you, here is a group you may want to check-out.

And here is a list of other groups working on this issue and others.
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As Obesity Goes Up

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, one result of how our our food system operates is that while one-half of the world battles obesity, the other half starves.

We'll comment about obesity here. In the next few days we'll add a post about hunger.

As stated in Eat Drink Vote, "The prevalence of obesity in the United States began to rise sharply starting in the early 1980s. Since then, our food environment has changed in ways that encourage eating in more places, with greater frequency, and in much larger portions. In part, these changes happened as a result of the increasingly frantic pace of modern life.' Continuing "But they also occurred as a result of changes in agricultural and investment policies that forced food companies to become more competitive."

So, when one looks at the food environment, one sees that individuals face well-organized and highly motivated interests that benefit when individuals eat larger portions ... more often .... in more places

Vote with your time: If this interest you, here is a group you may want to check-out.

And here is a list of other groups working on this issue and others.
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Matt Wuerker on the Ag Bill – Money Falls From the Sky

Matt Wuerker is the Editorial Cartoonist at Politico which means he has a front row seat on the politics of food. He provided the following background about the above cartoon which is featured on p. 6 of Eat Drink Vote.

"This cartoon resulted from the disparity between the perception of who is believed to receive ag subsidies versus who does. The family farmer is an archetype that is increasingly hard to find. These folks have been supplanted (a little ag wordplay!) by corporate 'farmers' who are more comfortable in limos than on plows."

He continues "The subsidy amounts are huge. I considered using a river to show the money flowing through the farmlands. Instead I opted for a crop duster because of their role not only in the hard work of agriculture but also in our romanticized view of agriculture - and, the deciding factor - they are fun to draw."

Vote with your time: You might want to see some of the groups working on agricultural policy.
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