By Alexis Agliano Sanborn
The Farm Bill is the most consequential yet unfamiliar pieces of legislation before Congress today. The bill’s reach is one of the most influential factors to our physical health as a nation. And it is at risk of budget cuts. Now is the time to fight for the Farm Bill and do something extraordinary – improve our country’s culture of food.
Our present food culture is full of contradictions. Our society is obsessed with food, yet we’re cooking less than ever. We idealize fresh, local, and organic – yet so often we opt for unhealthy conveniences. Why cook when you can summon dinner with a single swipe? We salivate as we scroll through our decadent Instagram feed, yet at the end of the day we opt for a frozen pizza. TV networks are feeding our desire by creating more shows than ever about food, yet 1 in 3 college students cannot hard-boil an egg. Information on healthy cooking is ubiquitous but we still struggle to make a nourishing and fresh meal.
Today 36.5% of Americans are obese. The obesity epidemic we heard about in the 80s and 90s is not over. Despite the era of superfoods, omega-3s, and paleo – our Insta-worthy lifestyle has not made us healthier. And what started in America is spreading around the world. People are getting bigger because of poor diets and the proliferation of processed and sugary foods. In some places the epidemic has reached crisis levels. In Chile, where 65.3% of its population is an unhealthy weight, the government is fighting back with new laws – tackling multinational food corporations and their deceptive marketing practices. Yet, change is possible in the United States. We can choose to forge a path to create a positive food culture. The Farm Bill is the most crucial part of shaping a healthy America.
The Farm Bill touches on nearly every aspect of food in our society. Enacted every four years, it influences agricultural policies, distributes subsidies, funds food and nutrition education, directs trade and rural development, and oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – i.e. food stamps). In short, the Farm Bill impacts what we eat, how we access food, and food education.
Despite its relatively small budget - only 4% of the federal spending – the Trump Administration is proposing devastating budget cuts critical to farm and food programs. The budget, if enacted, would reduce the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) budget by a 25%, from $24 billion to $18 billion. In addition to cutting discretionary funding, the budget propositions severely reduce farm bill funding for nutrition, conservation, and other farm and nutrition education.
Why is nutrition education so important? Education is key to making better food choices. Nutrition education is critical for low income and communities of color, as they suffer most from diet-related health conditions. Even among wealthier Americans who generally eat healthier, education accounts for roughly 20% of the association between income and healthy eating. Nutrition programs, including SNAP, were about 80% of the USDA's budget in the 2014 farm bill, making it the largest portion of agency spending. In addition to cutting education funding, current proposals would replace half the benefits people receive with boxed, nonperishable foods chosen by the government. The road to a healthier America is not lined with Hamburger Helper and canned peas.
Help disentangle a world of food contradictions and make society healthy – both on our screens and in our homes. The obesity epidemic is not over. Its reversal starts in the kitchen armed with knowledge. Help make the Farm Bill - a basic human right - part of the national dialogue. Our strength as a country comes from the tabletop. Change will not happen without our health. Congress needs to know that Americans are invested in the Farm Bill – and are willing to fight for our food.