Mr. Jennings, along with a number of nutrition experts, tried to link America’s obesity epidemic to farm support programs, “subsidies” as they referred to them as often as possible.
The theory runs something like this: Since government subsidies encourage farmers to produce more grains, soybeans and meat, Americans enjoy the safest, least expensive food supply in the history of the world. Consequently, since food is cheap, we eat too much. Add over-eating to our inability to coerce ourselves to exercise and we get fatter and fatter. The conclusion appears to be that if food were more expensive, we’d eat less. Of course that could be a hardship on folks who struggle to make ends meet now.
I'd have to give the report some credit for encouraging government programs to do more for fruit and vegetable production, which functions, precariously at times, without government support programs. Fruit and vegetable producers probably need a safety net, same as corn and soybean farmers. Farmers who produce perishable commodities face significant hardships from both natural elements and the vagaries of the marketplace and any program that helps assure a consistent supply of wholesome, safe, nutritious vegetables and fruit would be a good thing. It makes sense to create a system that allows these producers to stay in business.
Otherwise, I found little believable in the supposed link between government farm programs and obesity. The upshot of the report seems to be that the food industry seduces us into eating too much and exercising too little. I'll admit guilt to both counts. BUT, and it’s a big BUT, the lifestyle most of us enjoy does more to increase the diameter of our girths than does any government agricultural support program.
Or maybe there is a link. Consider this: If farmers were not as efficient as they are (less than 2 percent feeding the rest of us, plus countless others around the world) we all would spend considerable energy and time producing or acquiring our own food.
Because of the incredible efficiency of the American farmer, U.S. citizens have had time to invent, to recreate, to find new ways to enjoy the time we don't have to spend to feed and clothe ourselves. So, we have television, theater, movies, video games and CD players to entertain us.
We have the luxury of encouraging our children to participate in organized sports, band, scouts, or whatever, instead of insisting they come directly from school to milk cows, slop pigs, and bring in the hay. I can remember, barely, when school was let out early in the fall so kids could help pick cotton. Unthinkable today.
The gist of the ABC special indicated a need to wind the clock back about half a century, rid the airwaves of the many food advertisements we obviously have too little self control to resist, accept a less sedentary lifestyle and hunker down with our 40 acres and a mule and enjoy the simple life.
No thanks. We don’t believe the American public will agree such a drastic change in life-style is a good thing. We don’t believe the American public will agree that food prices need to increase, either. And we don’t believe the American Public will agree that having less variety at the supermarket is somehow a good thing.
We do believe, however, that the Administration could have done a better job of defending its agricultural program. Their spokesman, Tommy Thompson, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, did little more than bumble his way through a few prepared talking points and played into the hands of the adept Mr. Jennings to leave the impression that politics has more to do with farm policy than the good of the American public. That’s not the case.
We believe that Americans should eat a balanced diet, including moderate intakes of meat and dairy products and plenty of grains, fruits and vegetables. We believe we all ought to exercise more and take care of ourselves better than we do. But it’s hard to find a reasonable link between programs that allow America’s farmers to stay on the land and the poor choices we often make when deciding what’s for dinner.