Wednesday, December 24, 2008

New food policy? or more insanity?

The Times attempts to signal a season of hope with the question Is a New Food Policy on Obama’s List? They go on to say:
Parents want better public-school lunches. Consumer groups are dreaming of a new, stronger food safety system. Nutrition reformers want prisoners to be fed less soy. And a farmer in Maine is asking the president-elect to plow under an acre of White House lawn for an organic vegetable garden.

But quickly caution-
Although Mr. Obama has proposed changes in the nation’s farm and rural policies and emphasizes the connection between diet and health, there is nothing to indicate he has a special interest in a radical makeover of the way food is grown and sold.

Politics is the means to access resources. Subsidies may have a bad connotation, but, subsidies mean government. Without subsidies there is no government. What do we want to subsidize? Food systems that make up healthy local economies should be first, because we know that killer spinach and obese diabetic kids and oceanic dead zones and Monsanto death seeds and the death of the bees are the wrong mad cow sacrifice for our present subsidies.

What kind of change could we expect in the way subsidies should be allocated? And what is the source of the Times caution? When Obama and McCain were talking about drilling toward energy independence they were clearly insane- defined as doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results. And when Congress removed the restriction on coastal drilling they clearly were part of the same insanity. And the insanity is subsidizing the fossil fuel economy. And looking for fossil fuels solutions like fossil fuel generated ethanol as a means out of our pickle. People who don't participate in the insanity, like solar cookers, are seen as abnormal. The crisis may be a means to a solution but no one recognizes the role of fossil fuels in the crisis: that the crisis was recognized after it affected people's pocket books by snowballing in from the margins of the driving economy (Tracy, Merced, Stockton, etc.)

So first we have to see the problem of local government in building the infrastructure, commute roads etc., to facilitate resource consumption. Second we need to see the feasibility of what a local economy, progress, can mean. Third we need to recognize the source of our problems. Only then can be see the benefits of change. Change is hard- Exxon is not going to let Boxer give oil subsidies to solar panels. Change needs to be communicated from within a broad, not necessarily cohesive, coalition.

And it certainly doesn't happen by consensus. As the Times article notes:
Mr. Obama appointed Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa, which grows much of the nation’s corn and soybeans. Mr. Vilsack has talked about reducing subsidies to some megafarms, supports better treatment of farm animals and wants healthier food in schools. But his selection drew criticism because he is a big fan of alternative fuels like corn-based ethanol and is a supporter of biotechnology, both anathema to people who want to shift government support from large-scale agricultural interests to smaller farms growing food that takes a more direct path to the table.

At the end of the day change needs to be a win win for all. Otherwise we are just waiting for the Sarah-Palins to take their turn at the same insanity. And the goals of peace and health and independence remain wishful thinking. Our children cannot escape the yoke of OIL- Operation Iraqi Liberation.

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