How to Fix the Food System

Two recent articles in the Atlantic highlight  the fractures in our food system:  Barry Estabrook writes about discovering that, while Santa Barbara county in California ranks among the top 1 percent of American counties for agricultural production,  95 percent of the fruits and vegetables consumed in the county are imported from outside. Further, amidst all this bounty, 8 per cent of children and  53 per cent of adults are overweight. This is but one example of the many distortions in our food system. He concludes that we all need to make efforts to fix these flaws.

In another article, Josh Viertel shares his disappointment that President Obama is not adequately addressing the problems with the food system, “the fruit loops vs. real fruit” problem, as he frames it. He finds that in matters of reforming the farm system and maintaining good food standards the administration has not taken the lead. Like Estabrook, he concludes that if anything is to change, it is up to us, the people to change it.

We can think of the food system as having two big categories: the farming or food production part and the food consumption part. In both areas, big business interests dominate and governments are often slow to take radical steps to modify the existing structures. It would seem an obvious choice to reduce or abolish subsidies to corn and increase support to fruits and vegetables; or for government dietary guidelines to say that soda is bad for your health, but reality is more complex and cold realities often get in the way of ideal actions. So, yes, it is up to us to bring about a transformation instead of relying solely on the administration. Send a message through your choices:  buy less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables, talk to you grocery store people about what you would like to see them sell, they are usually very  attentive to consumers. And when a candidate comes to ask for your vote, ask them what they did for food system reform,follow their record,  keep a track of how they vote on the Farm Bill 2012, for instance. Perhaps we cannot junk the existing system and put in place a perfect new one all at one go, but we can certainly do our bit to reform the one we have one step at a time.

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