Friday, May 12, 2006


NY Times Op-Ed about Subsidies and Health...

When a writer was accused describing a healthy diet that was "elitist" he responded with this thoughtful message about why eating poorly (and in our situation this means eating in ways that are unhealthy for diabetics) is actually economically easier:

"The question is, how did energy-dense foods become so much cheaper in the supermarket than they are in the state of nature? This is not a function of the free market. It is very simply a function of government policy: our farm policies subsidize the most energy-dense and least healthy calories in the supermarket. We write checks to farmers for every bushel of corn and soy they can grow, and partly as a result they grow vast quantities of the stuff, driving down the cost of the processed foods we make from those commodities. In effect, we’re subsidizing high-fructose corn syrup. And we’re not subsidizing the growing of carrots and broccoli. Put another way, our tax dollars are the reason that the cheapest calories in the market are the least healthy ones.

That situation is a public problem and can be addressed only through public action — by rewriting the rules of the game by which we eat. We need farm policies that will somehow right this imbalance, so that healthy calories can compete with unhealthy ones — so that it becomes rational for someone with little to spend on food to buy the carrots instead of the cookies, the orange juice instead of the Sprite. Until that happens, eating well will remain “elitist." Michael Pollan

I tried having this conversation with my husband the other day, regarding corn syrup. We were trying to buy bbq sauce. You cannot buy HFCS-free bbq sauce and I wasn't about to pay $7 for it at Whole Foods. I explained about corn subsidies to places like ADM, Staley and Cargill and how bad it was and how bad HFCS is for you. I fully expected the glazed-eyes thing to happen.

But you know what? He GOT it. I'm so impressed with him. He said "So, let's just make our own." After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I spent the rest of the expedition grinning like a fool.

So maybe part of the answer is to start at home, change our ways and then, eventually, maybe, the government will follow suit. I know this is probably way too naively optimistic of me, but it's all I can do at the moment.
One way to change farm policies is to change demand in the marketplace. Farmers grow what they're subsidized to grow, but at the end of the day even the subsidies are determined by the marketplace. Eliminate demand for potato chips over potatoes, and BBQ sauce over homemade sugar-free products (thanks, Julia), and you will begin to see less subsidy.

Programs like Share Our Strength's Operation Frontline (, which helps to educate people at risk of hunger about how to make -- and afford -- healthy food choices, are invaluable in changing the eating habits of our children and, ultimately, in changing the marketplace.
Aren't we doing this same thing with cars, with pharmaceuticals, with the military, and even with education?
I think the home-made option is great, much more satisfying. I am often weighing time vs. $$ at Whole Foods! And yes, many other industries are parasitic of both people and the environment but they have little reason to consider these factors in the overall costs of their products (cars, Triclosan, BBQ sauce...)
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