Synopses & Reviews
Every five years, the U.S. Congress passes a little understood legislation called the Farm Bill. Primarily accountable for setting the budgets and work plans for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bill is anything but bureaucratic trivia. It is an essential economic and policy engine that drives the food and farming system and provides nutritional assistance to tens of millions of Americansmany of them children. In recent years, more and more citizens are realizing just how much is at stake in this political chess game.
Originally published in 2007, Food Fight was Daniel Imhoff's highly acclaimed primer on the 2008 Farm Bill. Now in a newly updated and expanded edition, Imhoff looks ahead at this important issue, as the debate for 2012 is already underway. With the legislation due to be reauthorized in late 2012, Food Fight offers a critical resource that can help them deconstruct this challenging bill, organize in their communities to gain a seat at the bargaining table, and ultimately vote with their forks.
Includes a foreword by Michael Pollan.
Delving into the Farm Bill can seem like visiting another country (if not another planet), with its foreign language and sometimes twisted logic. Specialty crops, for example, are what the USDA calls fruits, vegetables, and nutsthe foods that we are told to eat five to nine servings of each day. ChIMPS describes what happens when budget committees make a change in mandatory program spending,” taking away the funds that were promised for a program, such as permanently protecting wetlands or providing supplemental nutrition to low-income families. Direct payments” are the redistribution of tax dollars to landowners, based on the historical harvest records of a property, regardless of whether the land is still being farmed or the owner has suffered income or yield losses. For the average citizen concerned about the food system, rural job creation, and stewardship of the land, its a trip thats more frustrating than inspiring.
Most of us are reluctant policy wonks, but these are the issues of our times. If Americans dont weigh in on the Farm Bill, the agribusiness lobbyists will be more than happy to draft the next one for us. Food Fight: The Citizens Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill provides a road map for the average citizen through this complex legislation.
The Farm Bill that passed into law in May 2008 certainly did not give those who care about locally grown food and revitalized regional food systems or protected natural habitats within farming regions much to cheer about. The bill, like its predecessors, primarily insured that very big growers of a select few crops makeor at least dont losemoney. But the real winners are the commodity cartels, concentrated animal feeding operations, and gasohol producers that purchase corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, and rice in buyers markets. If there was a sea change in 08, it was a troubling one. Over 70 cents of every dollar allocated by the Farm Bill now goes to Food Stamps, known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). In dire economic times, approximately 45 million Americans have come to depend on hunger assistancealmost three times the number of just a decade ago. If nothing else, this shocking shift exposes the shortcomings of our national food system, which, in theory, has prioritized making food cheap and plentiful.
The good news? There were incremental improvements, such as programs to enable low-income consumers to shop at farmers markets, to help beginning farmers and ranchers, to expand the research base of organic farming, and to set up new businesses that add value to food by making things like cheese and yogurt or packaged cherries or carrots for school snacks. More money was allocated for conservation programs than at any time in recent history. (However, $500 million was ChIMPed from conservation programs by budget reconcilers in 2011 alone, an all too familiar occurrence.)
Perhaps the most encouraging development was that more Americans than ever tuned into the Food Bill debate. Erstwhile House Speaker Nancy Pelosi admitted, The Farm Bill used to be my least-informed vote. Now I know more about it than I ever wanted to know. Its fascinating.”
This book is intended to be a primer, a view of the Farm Bill from 30,000 feet. The goal is to increase political literacy on the subject, to translate the jargon, to tell people how to engage strategically with the webs of producers that actually put food on their tables. The book does this with tables, illustrations, charts, and plain-language explanations that translate this complex issue for the average person. As this second edition goes out, there is a groundswell of Americans who already vote with their forks and food dollars. When they also learn to dig in politically, the food fight will begin to be a fair fight.
The Farm Bill is a tremendous opportunity: used correctly, it can incentivize an agriculture and food system that remedies rather than perpetuates many of todays problems. Absent any significant campaign finance reform, what it would be like if eaters had their own political action committee or lobbying organization? An EAT Healthy PAC or a Food and Farm Patriots lobbying organization that could press for programs that truly are investments in family farmers, conservation, jobs, and affordable, nutritious food for all Americans. What an engine for healthy people, healthy air and water, and healthy economies that might be. It would be subsidization with meaningful social obligation in return.
About the Author
is a researcher, author, and independent publisher who has concentrated for nearly 20 years on issues related to farming, the environment, and design. He is the author of numerous articles, essays, and books, and is the co-founder, director, and publisher of Watershed Media.
For the past twenty-five years, Michael Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where nature and culture intersect: on our plates, in our farms and gardens, and in the built environment.