The Politics of Food

During the Great Depression people were starving. The majority of farms were small family-run operations. But people couldn’t afford what farmers grew. Farms were going into foreclosure at an alarming rate. The US government stepped in. They realized that even when people could once again afford food, if enough farmers weren’t growing it, starvation would persist. So, to make food available and affordable to the bulk of the population, the government started subsidizing small farmers to grow corn, wheat, rice, soybeans, meat and dairy. This was an attempt to keep large quantities of people fed comparatively inexpensively. It made sense at the time.

What doesn’t make sense is that when large corporate farms started growing these crops, and muscling out the small farmers, the government payouts continued, increasing over time to billions per year. Therefore, the cost of foods utilizing these crops has become increasingly less expensive. The price of food, still grown by small farmers, has risen proportionally. So now junk food, prepared foods, fast foods and those with little or no nutritional value are cheap, while vegetables and fruits, especially organic, are unaffordable to many lower-middle and lower income families.

In the early 1970s, the government again stepped in to attempt to reduce hunger in the US. They started school lunch programs for children. This was expanded to breakfast as well. The amount allotted to feed each child per day was initially under one dollar. Granted, in 1972 a dollar went further than today, and fruits and vegetables were more affordable. But that amount was never increased until the Obama administration was able to do so, by six cents. Not sure if that is per day or per week but either way, REALLY? So school lunch programs for needy children, some of whom aren’t getting food elsewhere, are attempting to feed kids two meals per day for around five dollars per week. That budget doesn’t allow for fruits and vegetables.

I recently saw an interesting documentary, A Place at the Table, which reported that one in four children in this country are “food insecure,” meaning they can’t count on regular meals. Taking into account the only food financially available to them is virtually void of nutrients, means one in four children in this country are growing up severely malnourished.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, for the cognitive part of the brain to develop it takes nutrients from vegetables, fruit, and protein. Without these crucial nutrients only the animal instinct for immediate gratification occurs. Trace minerals are essential for emotional stability. Without vitamins and trace minerals from vegetables and fruits and amino acids from protein, children grow up less intelligent, hyper, and more prone to explosive anger. What we are insuring, with increasing numbers of people who can’t afford decent food, is a greater tendency to ignorance, violence, and less ability to assess the long-term consequences of their actions.

I heard on NPR that WIC, a government program that supplies food to low income women, infants and children, is reviewing scientists’ recommendations to decrease the amount of fruit juice and peanut butter, and include more fruits and vegetables in their regular allotments. It’s a good sign there’s at least an attempt to address the nutritional void in this government program. Unfortunately, an increase in the budget to allow fruits and vegetables isn’t being considered, just a redistribution of currently available funds. The price of fruit juice and peanut butter hardly equals the present cost of fruits and vegetables.

The meat and dairy industries were initially encouraged to use antibiotics and hormones because it proved to increase production. We now know that hormones can be a major contributing factor to obesity and cancer. Antibiotics destroy gut flora, which adversely affects the immune system, digestive system, cognitive and emotional health and also contributes to obesity. At the beginning of the Obama administration there was a movement to limit the use of these substances. Unfortunately the meat and dairy industries are invested in these practices to maximize production. Politically, profit triumphed over health and the attempt to insure healthier meat and dairy was thwarted.

Sugar and caffeine are readily available and cheap, used liberally in soft drinks and junk foods. The lack of nutrients drives an addiction to sweets, empty carbohydrates and caffeine, as the body struggles to compensate for a lack of quality fuel. Feeding these addictions insures healthy profits for major food industries. If you read food labels it’s amazing how many products contain sugar. As I’ve mentioned before, sugar is now acknowledged by leading nutritionists as a primary culprit for chronic pain, diabetes, strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Too much caffeine, preservatives and other chemicals found in manufactured drinks, as well as prepared foods and junk food, contributes to stress, pain and other health problems. The AMA (American Medical Association) now acknowledges stress as a contributing factor in many illnesses. A lack of nutrients, and the physical assault on the body from chemicals in food, is typically the first domino to fall in a long line of health issues.

We know our healthcare system is broken. We spend more per person than any other nation. Yet statistically, US citizens have gone from the best health worldwide (after WWII) to below nearly every other industrialized nation and many third world countries. This decline is a direct result of the increase of sugar, antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals in our food, and the decrease of organic foods including protein, fruits and vegetables in our diets.

Billions are poured into the development of new drugs to supposedly address the growing health crisis. But the root cause, the lack of nutrients to enable the body to function and heal, is not being addressed. Until we make healthy, nutritionally rich, organic, readily available food, a priority for all members of our society, we’re fighting a losing battle when it comes to true healthcare reform.

Imagine what a significant decrease in stress, chronic pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer’s and cancer would do for our nation’s healthcare system. This is achievable!

The large corporations that grow and manufacture foods exist for profit, not health. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies prioritize profit not health. They won’t save us. To address our health care crisis, by giving every child a chance to embrace their full potential, and to help decrease stress and violence in our country, we need good food. Politically we need to value health over profit. Our government needs to subsidize farmers that grow healthy food and stop subsidizing junk. It’s the best way to give every member of our society the opportunity for essential emotional, mental and physical development. It’s the only way to politically Reclaim Our Health.

Health & Happiness,

Nancy Burton, L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist)