We’ve become accustomed to members of the Obama administration vilifying the nation’s “1 percent,” so we were at first taken aback last week when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the rest of us owe that select fraction a debt of gratitude for our very freedom.
Then we realized that rather than performing an ideological about face, Vilsack was praising the farmers and ranchers who produce the food that fuels the creativity and productivity of 316 million Americans.
Speaking at the annual conference of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Vilsack noted that modern agriculture has grown so efficient that only 1 percent of the U.S. population is involved in the production of food.
The other 99 percent of Americans are free to do whatever they want because they don’t have to worry about there being enough food.
“Every person in this country today has that option to live someplace else and to be someone else, to be a lawyer, to be a teacher, to be a doctor, to be an engineer, to be a construction worker, to be a business owner, to live anywhere in this country,” he said. “Why? Because we have farmers who are so good that we don’t have to worry, and we get to do what we want to do.”
Americans don’t argue about their diet and the origins of their foodstuffs because they are hungry. It is because they have not experienced hunger and famine that they are free to look at the abundance in their markets and find fault with the methods employed to produce it.
Famished cultures produce little art or literature. Hungry nations don’t fly to the moon, build great cities or conduct groundbreaking science. Where food is scarce, so too is liberty.
Farmers and ranchers provide the base on which the country is built. Vilsack is right. They deserve our praise.