Sign up for updates in your city.
Search for content
THE FARM BILL: UNTANGLE THE WEAVE? OR KNIT ANEW
Submitted by KAT on Fri, 11/16/2007 - 9:47am.
(Kat: This past Monday, I had to choose between attending a talk by No Impact Man and a panel at NYU on the farm bill. I opted for NIM—more on that later—but happily for us, one of NYU’s Real Food movement movers and shakers, Annie Myers, attended the panel, titled “The Farm Bill 2007: Understanding the Political, Agricultural, and Nutritional Impact” with guests Marion Nestle, Dan Barber, and Christina Grace. Here’s Annie’s oh-so-astute take, cross-posted from her blog, Thoughts on the Table):
Michael Pollan must have come up eleven times in the two-hour event. With all due respect for the author to whom I might as well dedicate most of my writing, I can’t help but wonder who the next hero will be. We need a new one.
First up of the three guests on the Monday night panel, Marion Nestle lowered a magnifying glass on one, minute proposal of the Farm Bill, that of Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), regarding nutrition standards for school lunches. The rather dysfunctional proposal has brought on excitement and anger from all sides, including both emotions from the very people who had advocated for just such a bill. The “its-better-than-nothing”s endorse the proposal, the “its-too-easy-for-corporations”s say no, and Nestle herself supports the bill with extreme hesitation, and a roll of the eyes. Her reason for speaking about the proposal at all was that “no issue is too small” for the Farm Bill. Even this one little provision attracted pages of published controversy, and it’s one of a gazillion clauses included in a monster legislation. Over a thousand pages long, the Farm Bill is accessible to no one, and understood by not a single member of the House of Congress. Clearly, Nestle concluded, there’s something wrong with how this legislation works.
Nestle was hinting at a perspective I’ve found particularly lacking in the movement for agriculture guided by sustainable, worker-supportive, fair trade principles. We who are up for it sludge through the Farm Bill, and the best of us – whether we’re organizations, institutions, or just crazy individuals - come up with proposals that cut subsidies, end subsidies, fund specialty crop research, or at least somehow cut down on this CORN production, that we’ve all learned from Michael Pollan is a major reason for why we’re stingy, fat, and hated.
What we DON’T consider, is scrapping the Farm Bill altogether. It’s demonstrably ridiculous, in and of itself. To address 3 million square miles of land with 1 Farm Bill simply doesn’t make sense. Agriculture is regional, for one thing. Not only are the culture and politics different in Iowa than in New York, but the land is too, and the climate. A bill with provisions for avocados in California should not be legislating the cows in Maine. Nutrition and Hunger and Agriculture and Trade may be much like adults playing Twister - mischievously intermingled, entirely inseparable, and always (somewhere) hurting – but these forces of the economy need not share the same budget and bed.
Money to support agricultural research should not detract from Emergency Food Programs, and whomever pens provisions for popular exports should not simultaneously sign off on subsidies deemed illegal by the WTO. Not to mention that politicians hassled by agricultural lobbyists shouldn’t be forgiven for forgetting nutrition programs in the meantime! And New York City representatives who disregard something called a “Farm Bill” just because they’re city folk shouldn’t have to be told that the “ag” legislation is crucial to aid New York City’s nearly 1.3 million food insecure individuals. How can we blame politicians for siding with big industrial agribusiness, or settling for the status quo, when the alternative (of actually reading the Farm Bill, and figuring out what’s best for one’s state) is as daunting as Tolstoy! It’s much easier to let Monsanto, Archer Daniels, or Cargill explain the Farm Bill like a bedtime story.
Of course, the Farm Bill proposals of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oxfam, and the National Family Farm Coalition, for example, are innovative and progressive, and are certainly steps in the right direction. But we need to think bigger than a Farm Bill proposal. We need to take the twister-playing issues in the Farm Bill and get them interacting through a different game: synchronized swimming, perhaps, or a maypole dance.
In response to my concerns, Nestle said that election funding really has to change. As long as we have the Iowa Caucus, she said, no presidential candidate is gonna stick their neck out for truly progressive agricultural policy. Maybe she’s right. I’m not sure what we need. But we can at least take the new, trendy interest in the Farm Bill further than the “Buy this! Buy that! Vote with your dollar!” mantra, and foster some truly innovative, political thought. If people did it in the ‘30s, and the ‘70s, we can sure as hell do it now.
Chapter leaders... Please login here.