On sandwich cookies, salads, and subsidies



I just returned from another weekend in New York—as on the last trip, I did a lot of walking and eating.

One of my favorite discoveries this time was the Chelsea Market. One hundred years ago, this sprawling warehouse complex was home to the National Biscuit Company’s bakeries, and birthplace of the Oreo cookie. Today, it houses a wide variety of food purveyors, many of them focused on bringing locally produced ingredients to New Yorkers’ tables.

The contrast between the ubiquitous mass-produced sandwich cookie and the local and organic produce, meats, and other foods for sale at today’s Chelsea Market is striking. It feels symbolic of the choice our country’s food and farm policy-makers face at this moment.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a purist. I enjoy the occasional Oreo as much as the next person. (Okay, maybe more.)

Still, I wish that locally grown beets received the sort of incentives that our current farm policies lavish on the heavily-processed cookie’s ingredients.

Toward healthy food and farms

This year, we can make that wish a reality.

This morning, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is convening a hearing on the topic of healthy food initiatives, local production, and nutrition. It will feature testimony from the Secretary of Agriculture, the president of Detroit’s Eastern Market Corporation, and Walmart’s Senior Director of Local Sourcing and Sustainable Agriculture.

Also this morning, UCS is releasing its Farm Bill platform and policy priorities. The documents spell out what’s wrong with our current food policies, documenting, for example, that the USDA paid out more than $5 billion in subsidies for just two processed-food and animal-feed crops—corn and soybeans—in 2010. By contrast, subsidies for all fruits and vegetables amount to only about 7 percent of what corn and soy receive.

Our platform also outlines exactly what we think Congress and the USDA should do this year to ensure a healthier, more sustainable food future.

In particular, we support farm policies that will:

  • Expand the production and accessibility of healthy food, through increased investments in local food systems; expanded incentives for fruits, vegetables, and organic foods of all kinds; and an improved “safety net” for farmers who grow such foods and who farm in environmentally friendly ways.
  • Increase farmers’ adoption of sustainable agriculture and conservation practices that protect soil, water, human health, and ecosystems.
  • Ramp up publicly-funded research to improve and expand modern, sustainable food and farm systems.