Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Farm bill will shape what we eat
When Americans gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July in the early days of the Republic, they may have dined on onion pie, pea soup and Johnny cakes (cornbread). Now, we're more likely to grill hamburgers and hot dogs.
You don't have to go back centuries to find significant changes in the American diet. You just have to go back three decades - to around the time of the Bicentennial.
The per capita daily supply of added fats and oils has increased 38 percent since the 1970s, according to the U.S. Economic Research Service.
Typically, you'll find these added fats in processed foods such as cookies and fast food favorites such as french fries and donuts. A lot of artery-clogging trans fats comes from these added fats and oils, primarily soybean oil.
As the added fats in our diets shot up since the 1970s, so too did the U.S. obesity rate. The percent of children considered overweight or obese has doubled since the 1970s, from 15 percent to 30 percent.
What may surprise you is that the U.S. government has paid billions in subsidies to soybean growers, prompting overproduction of the primary source of these added fats and trans fats in our diets.
The result has been lower prices for less healthy foods.
By contrast, fruits and vegetables are considered "specialty crops" by Congress and ineligible for subsidies. The price of produce has continued to rise.
"We need to create an environment where it's easy to eat healthy. Right now, if price is your chief concern, the rational choice is to eat crappy food," says Dr. David Wallinga, director of the food and health program for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis.
This summer, Congress is working on the Farm Bill, a massive piece of legislation that will have a profound influence not only on what farmers plant but also what we eat for years to come. And that will play a role in the nation's health.
Groups that follow the Farm Bill don't expect any big policy changes. What do you think Congress should do in the Farm Bill to promote healthy diets?
And as you enjoy your Independence Day, you can take comfort in your dietary connection to our ancestors. Apple pie was popular back in 1776, and Thomas Jefferson dazzled visitors to Monticello by making ice cream using ice harvested from the Rivanna River.
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