Columns, Opinion

WEIL: Food we can believe in

Today’s worldwide headlines renewed my faith in the American people with the advent of an Obama presidency. However, there is one area that I feel the candidates have inadequately addressed: food. Tom Brokaw did not ask the candidates to rank ‘food policy’ along with energy independence or health care in their ‘Top Three’ lists.

But why should Washington concern itself with something as mundane as food? What does the government have to do with what we eat? Believe it or not, the answer is everything.

‘ In a recent New York Times article called ‘Farmer in Chief,’ Michael Pollan’s eloquent appeal to the next president dissects the U.S. agricultural industry, which was built for the most part by Earl Butz, secretary of agriculture under Richard Nixon, whose motto was ‘get big or get out.’ Pollan pinpoints the problems of government farm subsidies, which encourage cheap mass production of crops and a dependence on fossil fuels through fertilizer use and international transportation. He grieves that food production accounts for about 19 percent of total fossil fuel use and consequently accounts for 37 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Like many things American, agriculture is big. A few main corporations control food production. Corn is America’s number one crop and is used in a diverse array of food products, usually in the form of corn syrup, due to heavy subsidies. Higher up on the food chain, cows in factory farms are force-fed cornmeal, a substance alien to their digestive tracts, and produce enough methane in their manure each day to fuel a fleet of hot air balloons. The waste piles up in mountains, leaking into the groundwater and stinking up entire cities like polluted Greeley, Colo., home to some of the biggest feedlots in the country.

The small-time farmer (some may call him Joe the Farmer) does not exist in this agricultural reality. He (or she) has been co-opted into a corporate job, spraying hazardous chemicals laced with petroleum and who knows what else onto the corn that may one day end up in your bag of Doritos. It’s not quite the romantic image of the overall-wearing farmer, pitchfork in hand, with a white farmhouse in the background ‘aacute; la ‘American Gothic.’

The agricultural realities are clearly less than ideal. However, with the promise of energy independence from Obama, this country could more feasibly put agriculture back into the hands of Joe the Farmer. But this isn’t the same Joe the Farmer your grandmother fell in love with. Joe the Farmer would work to unite the parties combining the conservative values inherent in small scale, localized farming with the more liberal environmental agenda. The sun, rather than oil, would power the industry. The government would concentrate its efforts into tax incentives for local growers’ markets rather than subsidized handouts to the giant agricultural companies’ and economy.

So, here’s to a renewed food policy under our 44th president: a president who can embrace progressive sustainability and reconnect Joe with food from his own backyard.

Rachel Weil, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a weekly columnist for The Daily Free Press. She can be reached at

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