A couple of weeks ago, I met a friend for conversation. When we were done chatting, she asked if I would like to join her to help hand out weekend food care packages to disadvantaged school-aged children. This particular program aims to close the meal gap for kiddos who rely on free meals through school, to help ensure they won’t have to skip meals over the weekend when school isn’t in session. I jumped at the chance.
Initially I had a great time checking the list for their names, encouraging them to have a great weekend, and handing them their “care package.” But my enthusiasm, and my blood, drained from my face as soon as I opened one of these little parcels to check out the goods supplied by the nutrition program. This is what they called nutrition?! Chef Boyardee beef ravioli in meat sauce. “Milk” boxes that don’t require refrigeration (how can that be?). Canned fruit in syrup. Fish crackers. Nutrigrain bars. Food items full of sugar, salt and fat. The same kinds of non-nutritional foods that create addictions and contribute to obesity: two of the fastest growing reasons the kids and adults in our country are becoming more and more sick… sick and dying.
Are we to believe that it’s CHEAPER to provide ELEVEN national brand items, each processed via multiple employees, manufacturing plants, packaging, and transportation than it is to hand these kids a bag of locally grown produce? It’s not cheaper UNTIL the gov’t subsidies kick in to offset the cost of that which feeds the wicked cycle. And it’s not cheaper UNTIL all the insane regulations and additional costing is dropped on farmers and growers. It’s all a game, a nasty and deadly game.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that we’re feeding people who need it and don’t have the means (huge kudos to our local food banks!!!), but let’s think about this ontologically. What are two of the fastest growing moneymakers in the U.S.? Hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. There is so much money to be made in sick humans. Being in this situation nearly brought me to tears. To think we are poisoning impoverished children who will have no chance to know any other way except one of struggle and illness and hunger (because that sh*t doesn’t satisfy for a body’s need for REAL nutrients!). It’s a perpetuation of the highly profitable Standard American Diet . . . and it is SAD. Add in the knowledge of what the U.S. government is subsidizing, and you get a really ugly picture, which loops back to obesity and chronic disease.
A study run in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine concluded that agricultural policies in the U.S. are contributing to the poor health of Americans, and, specifically, government-issued agricultural subsidies are worsening the U.S. obesity epidemic.
“Agricultural subsidies” has an encouraging ring to it, until you poke into what exactly is being subsidized. It isn’t berry farms. Or apple farms. Or “anything healthy” farms.
“Government-issued payments have skewed agricultural markets toward the overproduction of commodities that are the basic ingredients of processed, energy-dense foods,” the researchers wrote.
This includes corn, wheat, soybeans and rice, which are the top four most heavily subsidized foods. By subsidizing these, particularly corn and soy, the U.S. government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form, namely high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), soybean oil, and grain-fed cattle—all of which are now well-known contributors to obesity and chronic diseases.
Here’s the self-sustaining mess in a nutshell:
Impoverished kids get junk food.
They grow up as adults who are addicted to sugar, salt, and fat.
They become obese.
Their medical costs are through the roof.
Healthcare funds our country.
They die at 75 years old.
Their kids continue the cycle.
Their grandkids continue the cycle.
There’s a better way. A much, much better way. It’s time for a truly level playing field. I say let the chips fall and let us figure it out from there. We’re smart as a people and we can clean this up.