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Despite scorn, 'food system' feeds the world

Published on September 16, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on October 14, 2011 6:38AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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With the rise of the food elite -- those few who like to tell others how to eat -- the conversation about food has shifted.

Instead of celebrating the fact that America's farmers, ranchers and processors produce enough food for 307 million Americans and have plenty leftover to feed a significant part of the world, the food elite gets caught up in conversations about whether people eat the "right" food.

By that, they mean the food to which the food elite has applied its stamp of approval. "Local," "natural," sustainable," "salmon-safe" and "organic" are among the descriptors that mark the food with the "right" stuff.

It's time for a reality check.

These are exceedingly difficult times for our nation and, for that matter, most of the world. Our economy continues to sputter, our armed forces are tied up in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Congress and the administration lack the leadership and ability to extract us from these and other messes.

And many Americans are jobless. Some 14 million Americans are unemployed and 8.8 million others are working in part-time jobs because they cannot find full-time employment, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobless rate ranges from 8.9 percent for all adult men to 16.7 percent for African-Americans. Many of those who do have a job do not know that they will have one tomorrow.

In this context, one would have to be light-headed to debate whether organic or conventionally raised arugula should be served in the local school lunch program or at the local soup kitchen.

A single parent working two jobs to keep the rent and utility bills paid may not be particularly interested in a discussion of the 100-mile "foodshed." He, or she, most likely wants to make sure that any money spent on food goes as far as it can, whether it's in the foodshed or not.

Yet the food elite continue to bad-mouth the "food system," which provides a wide variety of food at affordable prices.

A recent study found that potatoes and beans are a cheap and effective way to add potassium and fiber to a diet, yet potatoes have been booted out of the Women, Infants and Children special nutritional program and allowed only in limited quantities in school lunches.

Why? Because the USDA believes people eat too many potatoes. That is pure nonsense tinged with patronization. That a hungry mother cannot buy a potato using WIC to feed her child is a sign that the nanny state has gone wild.

Shame on the USDA.

We are not against those who enjoy their food. If folks prefer organic or all-natural or local food -- or any other kind of food, for that matter -- that's their right as consumers. They are welcome to partake of the wide variety of of food available at the grocery stores and elsewhere.

But let us not lose sight that the "food system" works and works well. It offers a broad range of choices in great supply and at affordable prices.

And it provides sustenance to the hungry.

We have a food system -- it's called agriculture, by the way -- that is the envy of the world and of which we can all be proud. We should not hobble it with piffle about which foods are "right."

When you're hungry, any food will do.


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