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House Republicans aim pitchfork at food-system reform

Photo: JulussuglaCross-posted from Mother Jones. I've complained once or twice in the past that U.S. farm policy, even under Obama, favors corporate-led, highly dysfunctional agriculture. That's true on balance, but it doesn't tell the whole story. If you dig into the topic, you'll find that sustainable-food activists have been working for decades to place progressive, community-oriented programs into the ag-policy mix. These hard-fought victories, won during once-every-five-years Farm Bill wars, are vastly outweighed by things like the government's corn-ethanol fetish, or its hyperaggressive trade policies.  But the food movement's political gains are real, they're fragile, and they need defending. And …

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GOP's tiny cuts wound small farmers

It's death by a thousand cuts for small-farm Bessie.Photo: Wade FasanoLate on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Department of Agriculture’s appropriations bill for the next fiscal year. In their zeal to slash spending, House Republicans approved $7 billion less for the department than President Obama requested, cuting out worldwide hunger programs, settlement payments to Brazilian cotton farmers, and a popular “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative that connected local farmers with their schools and other food programs in their communities. But a tiny $2 million cut might hurt small farmers the most. The bill also stops the …

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Gary Taubes’ sugar article makes an excellent case for diversifying agriculture

In last week's New York Times Magazine, the science writer Gary Taubes argues forcefully that a range of chronic health problems -- heightened rates of obesity, heart disease, and even some forms of cancer -- can be blamed on overconsumption of refined sweetener. It isn't just the surge of empty calories that sweeteners provide that's making us sick, Taubes argues; it's also -- and mainly -- the way our bodies process them. Taubes acknowledges that the science around sugar metabolism isn't fully settled. But he brings highly suggestive evidence to bear, and I find it convincing, with a couple of …

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The American diet in one chart, with lots of fats and sugars

This is a non-interactive version of the chart. Also check out the interactive version, by Civil Eats and the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism News21 course.Over on Civil Eats, Andrea Jezovit has put together a terrific interactive chart on the U.S. diet. Using USDA data for "average daily calories available per capita, adjusted for spoilage and waste," it tracks our eating habits since 1970, separating our foodstuffs into basic categories: grains, dairy, vegetables, fruits, proteins ("meat, eggs, and nuts"), added sugars, and added fats. For me, the most interesting categories are the latter two. They represent what could be called …

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Budget fight threatens to turn Farm Bill into Industrial Ag Bill

Will eco-friendly and people-friendly farm programs get steamrolled?Will the next Farm Bill, scheduled for passage in 2012, put public policy in service of a food system that works for farmers, eaters, and the environment? Well, optimism over federal food-policy reform never runs very high in sustainable-ag circles. The agrichemical lobby is flush with cash and friends in Congress and the White House. But the current budget fight is making a bleak situation look downright disastrous. It's looking like the looming budget deal will slash funding for the few programs that currently counteract the Big Ag policy agenda. And while the …

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USDA chief flatters industrial ag while Obama honors its greatest critic, Wendell Berry

A year and a half ago, I complained that President Obama's food and ag policy was "giving me whiplash," because the administration seemed to keep zigzagging between progressive change and the agrichemical status quo.   Since then, a definite pattern has emerged: The administration puts real policy power behind the status quo -- see, for example, the recent deregulation of controversial genetically modified crops -- and deploys what the political scientists call "soft power" (usually through Michelle Obama) to hector people to eat a little better and chide corporations to clean up their junk food a bit. Two events last …

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Plotting the food revolution at TEDx in New York City

Laurie David delivers inconvenient truths on the food system at TEDx Manhattan.Photo: Jason Houston, via FlickerAttending the TEDx Manhattan event on the future of food and farming was a day-long drink from a fire hose of cutting-edge ideas, sobering realities, and sincere enthusiasm about how America can eat better and farm more sustainably. Since Time's Bryan Walsh offered a comprehensive write-up of the day's highlights here and here, I'm focusing my coverage on conversations I had with attendees and speakers as they came off the stage. Much of the offstage discussion centered on the looming farm bill, the critical legislation …

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For once, developments in Washington could make things better on the farm

The outlook for small farms could be getting a bit sunnier.Photo: andyrobeI write on Grist about my small farm, but my day job is different. I'm an organizer for the Nebraska-based Center for Rural Affairs (CFRA). One of the things we do at CFRA is try to tweak federal farm policies in ways that help rural farm communities thrive. And this past week, I've been thinking a lot about developments in Washington that affect both new farmers and rural communities in general. Recently, White House phone lines have been ringing off the hook as thousands of consumers responded to a …

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