In October 2008, Michael Pollan, a food writer and critic of American agriculture policy, wrote a letter in The New York Times Magazine addressed to the president-elect, whom everyone then assumed would be Barack Obama, on how to make our food more healthful. Obama wouldn’t win the election for another month, but the lithe, urbane candidate had earned a reputation for eating well on the campaign trail; he eschewed hot dogs for salmon, arugula, and Honest Tea. Food policy had not been at the forefront of the campaign, Pollan argued, but was key to a number of policy goals Obama had raised: “Unless you [reform the food system], you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change.
You’d be forgiven if, like me, you spent several years avoiding ABC’s ballroom dancing contest show, Dancing With the Stars. It belongs to that saccharine genre of reality show geared toward “families,” which usually means it’s sterilized and scrubbed until there’s nothing left to either like or be offended by. It’s a cousin of the ready-to-be-euthanized American Idol. Its pen pal is the British show Britain’s Got Talent, which gave us Susan Boyle. This genre has a lot to make up for.
Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June, the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion.
Late last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent new rules designed to protect small-scale livestock farmers to the White House for final approval. Farmers have waited more than three years for the changes, which the USDA was directed to review in the 2008 farm bill. The rules haven’t been updated for several decades and have often gone unenforced. In the meantime, the meatpacking industry has grown more powerful, and small farmers have struggled to make ends meet. That is especially true in the chicken industry, in which farmers have basically been forced to contract with a handful of chicken-processing companies and have seen their wages decline drastically.
In a front-page editorial in Harrisburg’s Patriot-News today, the editors of the paper, published in central Pennsylvania, call for the immediate resignation of Penn State’s president, Graham Spanier. They also say that Joe Paterno, the iconic head coach of the Nittany Lions football team, should retire at the end of the year.