27 March 2007

The Food Bill

From an interview with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma:

“There’s no question that the way we eat is in large part determined by legislation, the Farm Bill in particular. There’s a set of rules for the food system, and those rules are written into the Farm Bill. Most of us are unaware of this bill and don’t understand how this whole system works. The reason that fast-food is so cheap is in large part because we subsidize the growing of corn and soybeans, which are turned into livestock feed very cheaply, and the former into a very cheap sweetener, in the case of high-fructose corn syrup. So we unwittingly made a set of choices, without any of us really being consulted about how we would eat. It’s no accident that this is a fast-food nation. Policy has a lot to do with it. So if you’re going to change the food system, there is a lot that you, the consumer, can do on your own; but in the end, it will be very important to make changes at the national level.

...I think the people involved don’t want anyone else getting involved. It works really well for them that it’s treated as a parochial piece of legislation only of interest to the senators from Iowa or Nebraska or Illinois. Part of it starts with calling it the “Farm Bill.” Nobody thinks that farming is their issue. They think it’s a piece of legislation of interest to farmers. It should be called the “Food Bill” because it really is about how we get our food. People aren’t aware of the impact of this piece of legislation. If they were, they would pay more attention, and there would be a larger political debate around it. I’m hoping this year there will be.”

It occurs to me that there’s a strong parallel between much action and writing about progressive food and sustainable design. Both seem to focus heavily on personal choices and per project consumption: consuming only vegetables, buying organic or local, vs. consuming only recycled paper, non-toxic printing, using sustainable materials or energy. Along the lines of this previous item, I think these gestures are fine and good, certainly we should become the change we want to see. But surprisingly few concerned eaters and designers turn their attention to policy or legislation.

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