Mark Bittman had an awesome article on nytimes.com today talking about the importance of fresh fruit and veggies- he had some excellent points regarding making them more accessible.
We need to reduce unemployment and increase the minimum wage (including that for farm and restaurant workers). This (obviously) goes beyond the realm of food, but it’s key to improving the quality of life for many if not most Americans. (Here’s a strong argument for that.)
This is a contentious first step that I’m sure would open can after can of worms- I would propose that we take a good hard look at farmworker’s wages instead. It’s hard to buy another out of season tomato at Wal-Mart when you’re familiar with the true cost of that produce. A good resource to look into regarding this issue is the Coalition of Immokalee workers– Immokalee is a tomato hub in Florida that’s been one of the front lines in farmworkers’ battle for livable wages. Modern-day slavery (not to mention ruthless exploitation) is alive and well for migrant farmworkers, which is absolutely reprehensible. I sincerely hope that when consumers are given the choice between slavery and local food, they’ll make the right choice.
We need to not cut but raise the amount of support we give to recipients of food stamps. A good example is New York City’s Health Bucks program, where food stamps are worth more at farmers’ markets (which don’t, as a rule, sell sugar-sweetenedbeverages!).
Making food stamps more valuable at farmer’s markets is one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard. As Bittman points out elsewhere in his article, you don’t have to be a culinary maven to enjoy the benefits of fresh food- I may be a terrible cook, but it’s pretty hard to screw up a salad or ants on a log. It’s not much harder to reach for a bunch of grapes than it is to reach for a bag of Cheez-Its, and subsidizing the grapes would only even the playing field in terms of true cost.
We need not only to attack the nonsensical and wasteful system that pays for corn and soybeans to be grown to create junk food and ethanol, but to support local and national legislation that encourages the birth of new small-and-medium farms. We need to encourage both new and established farms to grow a variety of fruits and vegetables, to raise animals in sensible ways and, using a combination of modern and time-tested techniques, treat those animals well and use their products sensibly.
This! My thesis in a bullet point! Actually though- agricultural subsidies in this country are out of control, and they’re not helping to feed us either productively or sustainably. Instead of providing billions of dollars in subsidies towards a system that’s failing our health, our environment, and our conscience, we need to reimagine modern agriculture as something that will be able to survive (and, indeed, succeed) with substantially less government funding.
I really encourage you to take a look at Bittman’s article- it will inspire you to go out and grab a fresh Pennsylvania peach (soon, though- they’ll be out of season in a week or two!). What’s your favorite seasonal recipe? Right now I’m enjoying some truly perfect raspberries dipped in chocolate!