Why reform the American food system?

The following article is from The Nation at http://www.thenation.com/article/163399/how-change-going-come-food-system

With all the issues in the world and within this country, sometimes people just want to sit down, relax and enjoy some simple fast food. That American urge to eat such cheap food is itself a major issue that is slowly gaining national attention.

The American food system revolves around the production of cheap food. Fast food and mass produced goods are serious environmental and health dangers. Because making inexpensive food is quick and economically appealing, big companies are overpowering organic farms and healthy alternatives.

The food factories, at the rate at which they are producing, are damaging the environment and ruining soil. Additionally, the products they are selling are causing terrible health related problems, such as obesity and type two diabetes.

Despite the problems associated with the American Food System, Congress has yet to pass any monumental pieces of legislation to reform the system. Tom Harkin, Jon Tester and Kirsten Gillibrand in the Senate; Earl Blumenauer and Jim McGovern in the House are among the few people in Congress taking any sort of commendable action.

The congressional committees that handle agricultural policies are, for the most part, made up of farm-state legislators that do not want reform. This is because the food reforms the country needs, such as cleaner agriculture and meat packing factories, would make food more expensive.

With Congress at a relative standstill, and the President using the First Lady to spread awareness, grassroots organizations are the country’s main hope in attaining the needed reforms. Leaders will emerge from the organizations, get elected and hopefully change the American food system.

Reforming the cheap and dangerous American food system is comparable to the campaign against the tobacco industry. It took years for lobbyists and organizations to loosen the hold that the tobacco industry had on politics. It was the fact that the campaign shed a light on the costs that states were attaining because of smoking related illnesses that truly marked the beginning of tobacco reforms.

The economic stresses caused by smoking led to the many needed reforms. A similar argument can be made for the American food system. The insurance industry is paying for the American diet with covering costs of diabetes and complications associated with obesity. If the American food industry continues to be as dangerous as it is, these illnesses will only increase in numbers. Therefore, the costs will increase as well.

Luckily, the grassroots organizations are powering through the political games in Washington and making some headway. America cannot keep eating cheaply made and mass produced food. It is an incredible health and environmental hazard that is certainly prevalent. Additionally, the insurance industry cannot afford to pay for the increasing illnesses associated with the American diet.

It takes bold people and bold legislation to reform a food system so widely followed and so deeply protected. The costs of such a flawed system are catching up to all Americans and causing a proud nation to become unhealthy. But, will recognizable reforms happen when grassroots organizations are leading with seemingly previously used arguments? Will the lobbyists be strong enough to break the industry that encompasses a large part of every American’s life?

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3 Comments on “Why reform the American food system?”

  1. In my opinion, when I think of America I think about freedom of choice. It is true that it is every persons right in this country to eat what they want, regardless of the health concerns associated. It seems simple enough and at first thought it almost seems a bit ridiculous to think that the government would try to amend that. Unfortunately, when i look at the facts, a lot of the food we consume is unhealthy for us and ultimately can result in illnesses that the governments has to pay for. in my opinion th governments first obligation is the best for the people. If the government wants to push legislation towards banning types of unhealthy foods to prevent a numerous amount of negative side effects then I dont have anything against that an ultimately I think it is responsible of the government.

  2. niswatson says:

    The U.S. government can’t control a basic human craving and desire such as what we put in our bodies. It has been clear over the last century that prohibition on any product causes a huge negative side effect with black markets and smuggling(though I doubt we would have a Juarez family type of cartel for fast food). The only way is to show people the drastic consequences of their actions. Like that of the smokers in your piece, a great deal of good publicity for lobbyists seeking reform on tobacco came from seeing those suffering from oral cancer and other respiratory conditions. If I see the man breathing with a respirator and talking with a voicebox, I, and other reasonable Americans, will not smoke, and the same scenario works for eating right. I don’t feel that the reform will come in our generation, as the major food producers still have significant pull in the arena. However, I do feel that it will reach that tipping point similar to tobacco, which will start to put our country back on track.

  3. Keith Llado says:

    This is a very intriguing post–due largely in part to the resilience of the debate itself. As mentioned in your post, as well as the article cited, the seeming timelessness of this discussion is quite analogous to the public attitude and legislation surrounding smoking in the United States.

    Furthermore, it is analogous in an interesting way: in both cases, a societal reform against an action–such as eating fast, cheap food or smoking–is predicated, not only upon the science or knowledge itself, but also upon the public perception of the that science and information, which in turn plays large rolls in determining legislation. More simply, just because someone knows that smoking is bad for one’s health does not mean that he/she will not find a way to personally, and in turn, socially validate the action. Accordingly, legislation and political sentiments–such as the implementation of a Surgeon General’s warning on cigarettes, or a ban on advertisement of tobacco products–toward such an action are a direct reflection of the social atmosphere or opinion. For the sake of cohesiveness, it is worth noting that there is a much wider scope of interplay between the public opinion, government legislation, and the alternative legislation implemented by third-party institutions (schools, hospitals, etc.), which all play a game of “tug-of-war” in how they affect on another. However, for the purposes of this post, it is neither here nor there.

    Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is not much hope to see sharp changes in the public attitude towards fast, cheap, and unhealthy food. The point is that it is arguably common knowledge that there are negative health results from eating fast food in excess, and it is also very clear that insurance companies stand much to gain from seeing food production reforms in the United States, but the public often fails to acknowledge the health and economic ramifications of these actions. Personally, I do not blame this relaxed view of the American diet on ignorance, rather in part on apathy and in other part on economic and lifestyle conveniences. The point is that the American diet is the way it is because it fits in perfectly with our fast-paced, economically-strained, busy-all-the-time lifestyles. Until the negative health/economic impacts of the American diet reach a major public tipping point, the public opinion and legislation will reflect the same relaxed view on food in the United States.


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