i had the chance to meet with deputy secretary of the usda kathleen merrigan this last week as a result of the farm to cafeteria conference being in town. it was not just a meeting between myself and her, plenty of other folks were in attendance, and she was asking for folks to name their “doable dozen” tasks that would be our main priority to see the usda tackle.
in addition to the overall excessive use of the term “food dessert” i was also bothered by the focus on doable solutions. to me these little solutions are the realm of local non-profits, for profits, local and state governments. everything has to be scale appropriate, and the usda as a national organization should be thinking big.
so while others recommended support for programs like the doubling up of food stamp benefits for fresh produce and help with farmers markets and corner stores, i was thinking bigger. i was think about something that could really address our overall food system. we can put a farmers market on every corner and still not really deal with the bigger issues.
my proposal was that every single child in every school have free lunch and breakfast regardless of income. too many children that should be taking advantage of these programs don’t because of the stigma associated with being a part of these programs. and not just any old food, but good food prepared in the schools, with the students help as well. and with food grown in their gardens, and large amounts sourcde from local farms. of course this idea isn’t really a pipe dream, it’s something inspired by the amazing work done in the brazilian town of belo horizonte.
the other request i made that we completely overhaul our subsidies program so that what we financially support those same crops that the usda says it wants us to be eating, not the ones it tells us it does not want us eating. see why a salad costs more than a big mac here for a comparison. actually i’d be in favor of just getting rid of subsidies all together – think of all the money it frees up, but getting rid of them or overhauling them would be close to impossible because of the strong lobbing of all the major food companies. perhaps it’s time to put those antitrust laws into action.
the deputy secretary wouldn’t even touch the topic of subsidies, and only pointed out that free lunch already costs a fortune. but i can’t understand for the life of me how we decide what we are going to let be limited by money – if anything i would say that rational decisions are limited by funding, and irrationals ones are not. militarization and nuclear proliferation – go in to debt for it. feeding all children lunch – sorry we don’t have money. attacking afghanistan and iraq at the same time – sure no problem. national health care – sorry we would have to raise taxes. so it seems as though death and destruction can easily be funded but health and well-being is just too expensive.
and i think we often let priorities get limited by money, we say “well we don’t have the money so we can’t do it”, instead of saying “well it’s so important that we need not let money stop us, we will figure out something”. how do we come up with creative solutions for raising money, or better yet how do we come up with solutions that don’t need money.
but if we can’t beat ’em maybe we should just join ’em i present my new fundraising – food bonds. instead of buying bonds to support the war-time effort how about ones that support the effort to invest in the next generation, by insuring they all have good quality food every school day. i’d shell out some of my hard-earned cash, and i’m sure i’m not alone. combine that with the money saved on subsidies and we just might be getting somewhere.