Saturday, September 29, 2007

Harkin's Confession

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, admitted in an interview with CNN today that America does not have enough fresh fruits and vegetables for everyone to follow the time honored dietary dictum of five servings daily.

He was asked about the connection between the Farm Bill and the rise of obesity in the U. S. He acknowledged that there was a direct connection between farm legislation and the growth of American waistlines.

Consider these facts.

Most fruits and vegetables are considered "specialty foods" by Congress. As a result, they are not subsidized like corn, for example. Subsidies mean production. Their absence leads to underproduction in the face of growing need.

Scarcity drives prices up. Result: the well-to-do in this country eat a more healthy diet than the poor.

Add to this the fact that low-income communities, especially in our inner cities, don't enjoy easy access to good supermarkets and you have the public health reality fairly well in view.


I'd suggest a healthy increase in the Food Stamp program for the working poor. In addition, Congress should find ways to incentivize the production of increasing amounts of fruits and vegetables and the development of good retail markets among the urban poor. These three steps along would begin to take a healthy bite out of obesity and all of the public health issues associated with it. The savings to the American tax payer in health care costs alone would be enormous.

We need to wake up to the fact that most things aren't the way they are today by accident.



chris said...

Actually, it's cheaper to buy fresh fruits and vegetables rather than processed foods. The Economic Research Service analyzed the retail product price fo 69 forms of fruits and 85 forms of vegetables and found that more than half were estimated to cost 25 cents or less per serving with 86% of all vegetables and 78% of all fruits costing less than 50 cents a serving. That's 127 different ways to eat a serving of fruits and vegetables for less than the price of a candy bar. I know that most people do not eat the recommended servings of fresh fruit and vegetables, me included, but it is not because it is more expensive than processed foods. Senator Harkin may have an ax to grind, he has not been truthful on several things.

Karen said...

Fruits and vegetables may be as cheap as a candy bar, but they're hardly as available. How many supermarkets are there in poor neighborhoods with the fabulous selection of fresh produce we in the middle class enjoy? I'm thinking somewhere between not many and none.

Another idea is community gardens in poor neighborhoods. Hey, Chris, with your wealth of knowledge of statistics on public affairs, what do you think would be involved in starting one? Also, any thoughts on how to get supermarkets in poor neighborhoods so those pesky poor folks can substitute fruits and veg for their candy bars?

chris said...

Community gardens worked in WWII, so they might work if land was available. We might give each family a car so they could drive themselves to the market. Speaking of giving people things, why is it a lot of people think Hillary's idea of $5,000 to each baby born in the US is a good idea but the President proposed privatizing a small part of SS got laughed off the stage? What's the difference?

Karen said...

What market would that be, Chris? The one in North Dallas?

Karen said...

Further thoughts...

Have you ever noticed this about yourself, Chris? You’re kind of all over the place with your issues. When somebody asks you a direct question, you just switch topics at random and spout some more of the Pre-Digested.

I do indeed feel that, deep down inside somewhere, under all those facts and figures, there’s a person who’s extremely, very, and, well, quite pissed-off.

I’m thinking you’re probably a Christian lady. Isn’t there an admonition somewhere about ‘the greatest of these’ being Charity?

chris said...

I forgot your question. If it's how to get supermarkets in poor neighborhoods, it's very difficult. At best supermarkets have a small profit margin, I think I read about 1-2% of sales. Then there are added costs for insurance and other things. So they are not inclined to set up shop where they can't make a profit.I think some neighborhoods are bringing farmers market type things in. Even if there was a supermarket 3 blocks away, without a car one would have to lug groceries home. It's very difficult to live without a car.
Perhaps neighbors could get together and car-pool once a week to a good supermarket, each chipping in a small amount for gas. Well, it's an idea:) No, I am not pissed off.

Celia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janet said...

Against my better judgment, I'm going to jump in here.

I believe you just proved Larry's point, Chris. Supermarkets aren't readily available in urban areas. Carrying a candy bar, a bag of chips, or some ramen noodles back from the store is 1) easier and 2) more filling. Fruit doesn't fill me up. If I have $1 to my name and want to make sure my stomach is full, I'm going to eat something that I know is going to fill me up. I'm not going to choose the fruit or vegetable option. If I live in an urban community, the supermarket owners probably know that I'm going for the higher calorie, higher carb products and will stock their grocery store accordingly. If they actually stocked the supermarkets with more and more affordable produce, people just might buy it, thus contributing to our fruit and vegetable shortage.

Karen, there is at least one community garden in East Dallas. It seems to be pretty successful. We have thought of starting one at Turner Courts for the After-School Academy. Besides convincing the "powers that be" that we could make good use of their land, though, one of the major challenges is finding someone to teach the kids how to garden. Another option we are exploring is going to Samuell Farm and other places like that to "glean" fruits and vegetables.

Karen said...

Thanks to both Chris and Janet.

Chris, I very much appreciate your taking the time to offer a positive and concrete suggestion. It's a good idea. As I am often long on ideas and short on statistics, that's helpful.

When I said pissed-off, I meant that you often seem to come from a place of hate rather than love, but at moments lately it's seemed like maybe that's changing. You have a lot to offer with your 'facts and figgers' when they're applied in a way that seeks solutions.

Janet, the explanation about why people would choose a candy bar and why stores would stock them preferentially makes sense, and I hadn't thought of it.

Also, Janet, I used to be a parent-education writer for a private school in Dallas, and I once wrote an article on how my husband and I gardened organically with our children twenty-five or more years ago. I will try to dig out the article, as just this week someone asked me about the same thing. I'm sorry I don't have time to volunteer to work in the program myself, as it's tremendously rewarding to garden with kids. (I also did it as a classroom assistant.) I'll try to think of someone who might help you.

If I find the article, may I mail you a copy at CDM?

Chris, maybe I should let it lie, but I'll bet you'd be an incredible volunteer to work with the kids in the 'future community garden' once it gets going!

Frank Bellizzi said...

Here in Amarillo, TX, just a few months ago the one big grocery store in the 'hood that I know of (an Albertson's located just north of I-40) closed.

I've wondered ever since where the people downtown are going in order to get groceries.

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that there's a difference between my food choices and the choices of the poor here in Amarillo.