For an excellent op-ed piece on the importance or redefining how our lawmakers, and how we, think about Government's legislating our food system:

"Renaming the department [of Agriculture]," he writes, "would signal that Mr. Obama seeks to move away from a bankrupt structure of factory farming that squanders energy, exacerbates climate change and makes Americans unhealthy — all while costing taxpayers billions of dollars."

Kristof grew up on a farm in Oregon and still owns land there.  You and I pay him, a New York journalist, more than $500 a year not to grow food on it—a symbol of the greater absurdities we've gotten ourselves into over the past decades.

He asks president-elect Obama to acknowledge the importance of "change we can believe in" regarding our industrial agricultural system, which spends billions to damage the environment and make us sick with cheap food.

"The most powerful signal Mr. Obama could send would be to name a reformer to a renamed position, Kristof concludes. "A former secretary of agriculture, John Block, said publicly the other day that the agency should be renamed 'the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry.' And another, Ann Veneman, told me that she believes it should be renamed, 'Department of Food and Agriculture.' I’d prefer to see simply 'Department of Food,' giving primacy to America’s 300 million eaters."

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23 Wonderful responses to “Thank You, Nick Kristof”

  • Tags

    Obama’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture was Iowa governor Tom Vilsack.

    The last sentence in his Wikipedia profile (as of today) is especially telling…

    Vilsack has also been known to travel in the Monsanto jet.

  • milo

    “President Obama can do anything he wants with the names of departments and the appointing of people to run them, but the American people have to choose better too.”

    Sure. But the choices made by the public are affected by pricing and availability, and those are affected by government policy, particularly subsidies. And in the case of school lunches and things like food stamps, there’s little if any choice available, you get what the government decides to provide.

    Yes, people should get better educated and make better food choices. But the government should still reform the way they influence farming and eating in this country.

  • Michele Niesen

    I was starting to lose faith until I read the post from milo. Sheesh people. Cheap food is killing you. Period. For those of us who don’t eat cheap food the rest of you are costing us money. We hate that.

    Don’t worry so much about semantics of the FDA, USDA, the farm bill or sustainable vs. local vs. organic. Use your brains before they rot out of your head with caffeine and corn syrup. Is it better to buy organic milk from Colorado shipped to Georgia, buy non organic produced one state over or to just buy your own cow and try to deal with it’s waste. I dunno, and guess what? The Govt isn’t gonna know either. So don’t sit around like a bunch of duck decoys waiting for the bread line to start.

    We spend less than 10% of our incomes on food. And nearly the same on personal electronics. Add in “luxury personal services” and it nearly doubles. Think of what you spend on cable tv, increased insurance premiums, gameboys, internet, iPods, flat screens, automobiles, manicures, pedicures—and sweet mary Starbuck’s??

    And for those of you who don’t know what to do? Here’s a common sense breakdown for you. Instead of waiting for Michael Pollan to write another book, Obama to change the name of the Farm Hooha, or deciding if subsidies in Oregon are better than Iowa…just do for yourself. Join a CSA, they’ll do all the work, and you’ll pay them. Taking the government out of the equation. They farm, you get what’s seasonal and they’ll drive all of it to a drop point and you start eating the way nature intended. Will it be more than a tomato grown in a hothouse in Canada and shipped 2000 miles? Maybe so, but get over it. It will actually taste like a tomato and you won’t be burning a hole in the sky to make a BLT.

    A free market is one where we have choice. This website has independent farmers with great grass fed options and local farmers… http://www.eatwild.com/
    you can keep your economics class out of my pantry, thanks. And the person who thinks that the FDA and the Dept of AG should get married and “regulate everything that goes in our bodies…” EEEkk! Pharmaceuticals and Farming do not make for good bed fellows.

    France sure doesn’t seem to give a hoot about the WTO, they make enough food for them and for lots of other countries. They actually bring money IN on export markets. And it’s some of the best food on earth. And trust me, we import plenty. Stop by Walmart and check it out. Since when is America the Land of the Passive and Needy Sniveler?

    And convenience foods? Really? You can’t get past that? You’re SO busy that you can’t wash a bag of spinach pull apart a rotisserie chicken mix that together and put pumpkin seeds on top? Or boil some brown pasta and put an organic sauce on top? We have access to everything in this country don’t be so lazy. Throw away your microwave. Learn how to cook something. Anything. And god forbid you learn how to grow something.

  • Judith in Umbria

    President Obama can do anything he wants with the names of departments and the appointing of people to run them, but the American people have to choose better too. It doesn’t matter what comes from the top if the average eater doesn’t know the difference between nutrition and junk or just simply chooses the junk even if he knows better. Any mother will tell you that.

  • milo

    “While all well and good, is the American consumer really going to be willing to pay for more expensive food, especially in the current economic situation we face ourselves in?”

    Who said anything about making food more expensive? Right now we spend tons of money not just subsidizing bad food, but paying people NOT to grow food. There are plenty of improvements that should be made that won’t drive up the cost of food.

    “Evidently, it’s easy to be altruistic and purchase organic and sustainable produce when you have money.”

    But don’t ignore the fact that sustainable food has an unfair advantage because it doesn’t get the subsidies of conventional food. It will still be more expensive, and some people still won’t buy it, but at least level the playing field (if not favor sustainable food).

    “The reason we have cheap food is because of the industrialization of the food chain.”

    That’s only one reason. Other major reasons are because some kinds of foods are subsidized, and because of things like artificially keeping food prices down by not requiring factory farms to treat the waste they produce like other industries have to. The food looks cheap, but consumers are paying much more through their tax dollars.

    “I think is is a noble cause, but my economics background isn’t sure exactly how it can be done without either drastic increases in prices or government assistance.”

    How would switching a subsidy from corn and soybeans to broccoli increase prices? How would NOT paying people not to grow things increase prices? How would encouraging more local consumption increase prices?

    While some things would increase prices, there are plenty more that wouldn’t.

    “I would greatly prefer for the free market to address it, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon when farmers and ranchers are making as little money as they are.”

    But that’s exactly the problem, it’s NOT a free market when there are so many subsidies and laws that favor the big corporations at the expense of people actually doing real farming. The whole reason farmers and ranchers are making so little money is because they are put at a huge disadvantage by current government policies – all the more reason to change those policies.

  • Shelley

    I just wish I knew, as a lonely consumer with one vote, how to have an impact on this issue. I’m only halfway through “Omnivore’s Dilemma,” so maybe I’ll have a clue what actions I can take when I get to the end… ???

  • Amanda

    AMEN, Erin! (Heaven forbid TPTB use any common sense, though.)

    I just read an excellent article on this subject by a Washington state farmer, Erick Haakenson, to whose CSA I belong. You can read the article in his newsletter (it’s #8, “More jobs, fewer greenhouse gases, less governmental spending: an employment, economic, and environmental no-brainer”) at the farm’s website: http://jubileefarm.org/index.html — there’s also an article on the local vs. organic issue.

  • Erin

    If the smaller farmers were getting real money instead of it all going to multi-million dollar coorporate farms, they would be able to charge less for their produce. The reason good food is more expensive is that they aren’t getting the help they need. It is a simple fix, get rid if the coorporate lobbies and do what is right for the country. Good food is not just a pipe dream, it is just being held back by greed.

  • Tags

    The “free market” is a fantasy when the big boys throw their weight around inside the beltway.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Excerpted from Op-ed…”As Mr. Pollan told me: “Even if you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on — health care, climate change and energy independence — unless we reform agriculture.”

    This one sentence has been reverberating around my thoughts all day long…I couldn’t imagine a more exacting thought put into words.

  • Richard

    While all well and good, is the American consumer really going to be willing to pay for more expensive food, especially in the current economic situation we face ourselves in? I offer into evidence, Exhibit A, the drastic decline in profits of Whole Foods recently. Evidently, it’s easy to be altruistic and purchase organic and sustainable produce when you have money.

    The reason we have cheap food is because of the industrialization of the food chain. Like it or not, it’s the situation we find ourselves in. In the end, someone will have to be subsidized, whether it’s the purchaser through food stamps and the like, or producer through subsidies (there’s that word again) to grow what the administration wants it to grow, in order for there to be a wholesale change in food in America. Throwing more money on either side will surely bring the wrath of the World Trade Organization upon us. Then you have a whole set of other issues to deal with.

    I think is is a noble cause, but my economics background isn’t sure exactly how it can be done without either drastic increases in prices or government assistance. I would greatly prefer for the free market to address it, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon when farmers and ranchers are making as little money as they are.

  • Erin

    That is not surprising at all, when you know about the insanity surrounding the Farm Bill. Why multi million dollar company farms recieve aid when the small struggling farms don’t recieve a penny is beyond me. Look at the insanity surrounding the farm bill and you will understand why American food is such garbage and why people are being paid not to grow food on their land.

  • jscirish27

    Healthy food system=healthy people
    Unhealthy food system=unhealthy people

    Why this is such a mystery to so many is baffling to me.

  • Natalie Sztern

    and by this statement, my point is that people were eating a lot healthier back then, less money therefore less unnecessary spending, and the results were healthier people.

    Even Canadians can see where medicare is failing today because the gross population is so unhealthy even with our gyms and personal trainers…

    yes, what we put in our mouths to feed our bodies is more important than anything else and is given the least amount of respect.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I know Health Care reform from living in Canada and from first hand experience if the government will not put a vested interest in the food you eat, I agree that Health Care for americans will probably never come to fruition. Do not forget that Canada came into Medicare around fifty years ago when farming was still in abundance as well as markets and fast food and junk food was just giving birth. Shopping days were limited to the market for fresh fruits, vegetables and meat in the summer and winter forced us to indoor ‘grocery stores’ not ‘supermarkets’.

    And with all due respect to Mr.Kristof, again I say, what do u write on Twitter and how much of your day is spent there?

  • Tags

    I submit “Department of Degustation,” with its inference of assiduous appreciation.

  • joelfinkle

    Umm… there’s already a “Food and Drug Administration” under HHS, which is separate from Agriculture. That’s part of the problem: Inspections and regulation of meat, dairy, produce, food additives may be FDA or USDA, depending on what’s combined. I know adding meat to a frozen pizza puts it into a different category, for instance.

    Perhaps some of the FDA items should move to Agriculture, but the line between “food” and “drug” blurs in this market — what’s a vitamin? A vitamin water? A fortified wheat flour? A genetically-engineered rice that adds vitamin A?

    And much of Agriculture is about the business of producing food, not the regulation of its use — merging that with HHS would be a real mess, on the order of Homeland Security.,

  • Maura

    No doubt we need a reformer, because this:

    One measure of the absurdity of the system: Every year you, the American taxpayer, send me a check for $588 in exchange for me not growing crops on timberland I own in Oregon (I forward the money to a charity). That’s right. The Agriculture Department pays a New York journalist not to grow crops in a forest in Oregon.

    is screwed up. It’s not like I didn’t know this happens, but still…screwed up.

    I’d prefer the name wasn’t changed. They’ll spend 18 months arguing over what it should be called.