No Secret Farm Bill and other things to be thankful for
Mark Bittman has provided the ultimate Thanksgiving guide for anyone interested in making our broken food system work again. His exhaustive list of the 25 people or groups for which he is most thankful is a must-read.* It starts with nutritionist and food system reform pioneer Marion Nestle and ends with “anyone who’s started a small farm in the last five years, and anyone who’s supported one; anyone who cooks, and especially anyone who teaches others to cook.” That covers a good portion of Grist readers, I’d like to point out. So good on all of you, too. Heaven knows, I’m thankful for you.
In the glass-half-full spirit, I thought I’d take a moment to point out some recent news developments for which we should also all be thankful.
The collapse of the deficit supercommittee
There are, no doubt, many reasons to be thankful for this. After all, we can cut our national debt by $7.1 trillion by doing absolutely nothing, so it’s not clear why we need a bunch of old men sitting in a room to come up with ways to cut less by performing all sorts of budgeting gymnastics. But, more to the point, it also follows that no deal in the supercommittee means no Secret Farm Bill. Or at least it means that reformers might still get a chance to weigh in on farm policy, in hopes of moving it away from large, wealthy corporate farms and towards farms who need and better deserve the support.
The Secret Farm Bill, which is no longer a secret thanks to the Environmental Working Group, won’t be entirely scrapped, I’m afraid. But at least it will probably move back to the more open House and Senate Committee process and will likely require a standalone vote from the full Congress. That fact alone may turn back the most egregious elements of Big Ag’s attempted raid on the treasury. A more public process may ensure that such brilliant maneuvers as cutting the subsidy criteria from $1 million all the way down to $950,000 might be seen as the accounting tricks they truly are. That eligibility cut was admittedly a fiendishly clever move on the part of farm state representatives. After all, “No farm subsidies to nine-hundred-fifty-thousandaires” doesn’t have quite the ring that “No farm subsidies to millionaires” does.
Marion Nestle does a nice job of summarizing the contents of the Secret Farm Bill, which will likely form the basis of the 2012 Farm Bill, warts and all. At least reformers know what they’re up against.
Yum! Brands, surrender monkeys
We can also be thankful that Yum! Brands’ (the corporate owner of KFC and Taco Bell) attempt to get the USDA and various states to let food stamps recipients spend their benefits at fast food restaurants has failed. First, the USDA announced that it agreed with reformers as to the shortcomings of the plan. Then the individual states declined Yum!’s entreaties. Soon thereafter Yum! raised the white flag on the whole enterprise. It’s a case of media attention and social organizing successfully derailing corporate lobbying. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s reason for cheer.
And finally, we can be thankful that it appears the man behind possibly the largest food contamination outbreak ever — the hundreds of millions of Salmonella-tainted eggs produced and distributed by a handful of factory farms — is getting out of the day-to-day egg business. According to the Associated Press, Jack DeCoster, whose web of front companies hid his role as the largest egg producer in the country, will find something else to do rather than oversee some of the biggest, filthiest “farms” in the U.S. It’s not the whole
enchilada omelet of factory farm reform, but it’s a victory nonetheless.
And you thought I was Mr. Doom and Gloom!
In celebration, go visit your local farmers market — the ones here in Philly are still in full swing — invite some friends and/or family over, roast and eat a pastured turkey (or a Cornish game hen, as Boston’s James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Maws does), or make this Thursday a Meatless Monday. Any way you carve it, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
* And not just because he was generous enough to include me, along with former Grist food editor, Tom Philpott, the person who brought me into the Grist fold in the first place!