No, the Farm Bill isn’t over yet—it only seems like it should be. Those watching this year’s bill have seen it metastasize into a terrifying, nearly incomprehensible behemoth of competing interests. In Sunday’s New York Times, Michael Pollan plainly deconstructs what’s been happening on the Hill over these many months.
He is not pleased. This year, Pollan acknowledges, “[t]he eaters have spoken” and concerned citizens brought “an unprecedented level of attention to what has long been one of the most obscure and least sexy pieces of legislation in Congress.” But it mattered little: The Farm Bill on the Senate floor this week—the House passed its version in July—“is very much a farm bill in the traditional let-them-eat-high-fructose-corn-syrup mold.” The subsidy system has been largely preserved, and opponents of it were partially bought off with new programs, like $2 billion for “specialty crops” (“farm-bill-speak for the kind of food people actually eat”). Pollan reviews the monies going to the few worthy programs and then bites down hard:
We would not need all these nutrition programs if the commodity title didn’t do such a good job making junk food and fast food so ubiquitous and cheap. Food stamps are crucial, surely, but they will be spent on processed rather than real food as long as the commodity title makes calories of fat and sugar the best deal in the supermarket. We would not need all these conservation programs if the commodity title, by paying farmers by the bushel, didn’t encourage them to maximize production with agrochemicals and plant their farms with just one crop fence row to fence row.
It isn’t over. The bill will be subject to several amendments on the Senate floor, which might alter and possibly improve it. That’s why Pollan ends with a quiet call to the phones, and the Ethicurean, in its write-up of Pollan’s op-ed, concludes with a more adamant, if semiapologetic, one: “Sorry to sound like a broken record, but yep, it’s time to call your senators again (better than emailing) and urge them to vote for one of these.”