Reclaim Agricultural Policy for the Future of Food
In my last editorial article I discussed my thoughts on food justice and how this basic human right should be available to children to support their healthy development. Since writing that piece I watched the documentary A Place At the Table which was a humanizing look into the ongoing political frameworks in the United States which are holding back the progress of food security. As we know, the 2014 Farm Bill – or Agricultural Policy – came into law this year bringing a tide of controversy along with it.
Politics at Play
In fact, U.S. Agricultural Policy is so under attack and scrutiny presently that it had me wondering what can be done about it, and of course – what the real problem is. Is it a lack of funding administered to food? I don’t believe it to be. I see the real problem as being a misuse of current funding that gets tied up in underperforming social systems such as Food Stamps. In my opinion, Food Stamps are a Band-Aid solution. They just cover up the problem, they don’t cure it. Food Stamps don’t give low-income families the ability to become self-sufficient. Food Stamps force families to feed their kids packaged foods made from refined sugars and other nutritionally-deficient ingredients. The obvious governmental blind-eye that has been turned to the compounding socio-economic factors at play is both alarming and disappointing.
Who’s Feeding America’s Families?
In a society where the “American Dream” encourages you to work harder to earn the things that you deserve, it’s a shame that the very social programs in place to help low-income families survive – such as Food Stamps – are in fact discouraging people from earning a higher income. Why? Because as soon as they earn a slightly higher income than what had originally deemed them eligible for Food Stamps, they’re then cut off from the program. Often times the discrepancy in government support and the additional income is still too great. The families end up losing money which feels like a punishment for earning a higher income. This system is not conducive to creating healthy and productive communities – and feeding children.
Because of the unsupportive federal food system, food funding in the U.S. has been increasingly passed to the private sector. Church groups, non-profits, volunteers, and even businesses are often the unsung heroes of conquering hunger in North America. The reliance on and passing of responsibility onto these private groups speaks volumes about what the administrations both past and present really feel about food justice. In the big picture, food isn’t a human right in their eyes.
Support for Urban Agriculture
So what can be done? The USDA recently announced an investment of $78 Million into local food production in order to expand this growing market. This is a hopeful indication that the government is finally starting to see the value in sustainable food supply and safety. However, as with most government programs, the incentives are lacking. This $78 Million could be divided up and geared towards conquering food deserts. For example, if you had an urban farming operation established in a USDA-recognized food desert, you should be given greater grants, incentives, and opportunities to build your business. You should also have available to you the resources that are necessary to acquire community involvement, formulate local distribution networks, and any other business facet that would benefit both the business and the very people whom we want purchasing this fresh food. A special funding program designed specifically to tackle food deserts should be a priority for this administration.
Managing Our Investment
Though the capital injection from the USDA for local food enterprise looks good on paper and is a positive PR move, the reality is it was lazy policy making. It’s not addressing the real problem. And until someone in power has the courage to reclaim agricultural policy so that it works and serves the citizens of the United States, we’re going to have to continue to rely on the private sector to fight hunger in America – if we even allow it. Even more concerning, if the investment into local food markets isn’t successful it will likely be blamed on the cause instead of on the management of funding itself.
There’s No Food Shortage
It’s fundamental to understand that hunger in America isn’t about a food shortage – it’s about the lack of government policy that adequately addresses the root causes of food insecurity. We don’t have a lack of food. We have a lack of respect for human rights. We have a lack of empathy, empowerment, and willingness to take the hard stances that are needed to throw out special interests and support the needs of families. These families suffer in silence while paralyzed by shame and embarrassment. This poor quality of life affects productivity, well-being, and one’s ability to be a contributing member of society. If that’s not a reason to reclaim agricultural policy then it’s time we reevaluate our priorities.Feature Image: Restructuring and reclaiming agricultural policy is what’s important for the future of food security. Image via Andrew Matthews/PA.