Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Does Your Farmer's Market Take Food Stamps?

Last night Bill and I watched a film called Food, Inc. which I had never heard of until it landed on our counter. Generally speaking, it's one of your typical run-of-the-mill liberal documentaries in the same vein as Bowling for Columbine and Supersize Me. Now, I've already openly admitted my bleeding heart tendencies to you, so it's not a huge surprise that this film struck a major chord with me, especially given the very context in which I write most of the entries for this blog.

A striking statistic discussed in the film is that 1 out of every 5 health care dollars spent in this country today goes to treat diabetes, which is largely preventable. We've ALL seen this commercial:

Now, I've known for years that there is something ridiculously unnecessary about high fructose corn syrup nutritionally, but Food, Inc. explains the relationship between corn and industrial food production in this country and EVERYTHING ELSE. Public health, money, the environment, corporations, labor, immigration, regulatory agencies, and our legislation.

The wonderful thing about this problem is not necessarily political. We don't have to draw battle lines based on political parties or religious beliefs. Voting with your wallet in the checkout line for organic, local, and sustainable foods benefits your family, your neighbor's family, and your planet with no strings attached. It may cost a few extra dollars today, but by increasing the demand for these products in the marketplace, supply will go up and cost will go down. There is a point in the above trailer where a family is discussing having to choose between buying a few vegetables or a few hamburgers for the same price to feed their family. I'm immediately reminded of the trip I took to my local farmer's market this past summer where I asked a farmer what his price was for a head of garlic and he literally pressed an entire handful into my hands and told me to enjoy.

I like to think that he did that because he had an innate sense that I'd mention it here in this blog, which you are reading right now, to encourage YOU to think more about where your food comes from. That and farmer's markets are notorious for generous vendors and nutritionally superior products. It's an unfortunate reality that genetically engineered foods are not engineered to be made more nutritious, they're engineered to be cheaper. This applies to industrial breeding of cattle, pork, and poultry which has far-reaching impacts on our public health, environment, and global economy. I'm not arguing against eating meat. My family loves meat and animal products, but, as a farmer argues in the film, there is something to be said for respecting "the pigness of the pig."

At the end of the film there was a series of call-to-action suggestions which included one that I'd never thought about before: making sure your local farmer's market accepts food stamps. Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Why not cut out the all of the middle men (Walmart, etc.) and connect two groups of people in the community that desperately need each other. I have no idea what would be involved legislatively to ensure that the vendors at my farmer's market are able to accept food stamps, but I am planning to ask the next time I'm there.

"A culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic inanimate structures to be manipulated by whatever creative design a human can foist on that critter will probably view individuals within it's community and other cultures within the community of nations with the same type of disdain and disrespect and controlling-type mentality."
--Joel Salatin, Polyface Farms

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