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Influence Peddlers and What We Eat

The Washington Post, reporting all things politico, had a story today about our new Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, formerly Iowa governor. Apparently, he’s trying to reassure worried food policy activists, Michael Pollan among them, who think it’s going to be agribusiness as usual. Certainly in these times, with accusations of sleeping regulators who allow (even effectively condone) fraud and influence peddlers running amok (isn’t that their job?), it’s a real worry.

The fundamental problem here, however, is that the mission of the USDA is not really about helping eaters, despite the headline (“Vilsack: USDA Must Serve Eaters as Well as Farmers”), it’s about selling more and more. In fact, the USDA’s top two strategic goals are all about pushing markets, making money and “international economic development,” which our research shows isn’t really about helping our international siblings. In a nutshell, the USDA’s job one is to help the food industry, not us.

Now, Washington being Washington, of course the food industry has lobbyists. Just like the peddlers in the financial, insurance, auto, etc. industries, hordes of perky men and women set about to convince those who might listen of how right they are. We’ve written before about a fascinating campaign designed to convince us that chemical fertilizer is the bomb.

But, the beauty of the food industry is that the government system is fully and wholeheatedly designed to accomplish its mission — help food do its business. When it comes down to the basic rules and decisions that affect how, where, why, when and by whom our food is made, the powers that be are not beacons shining light on the way to a healthy populace.

Which brings us back to waking up. By paying attention to the reasons why we find our selves in this current state,we understand that we must take personal responsibility for what we eat, recognizing the connection between our food system and who we are as a connected people. This is the influence we should peddle.