By guest blogger and leading health-and-wellness expert Jillian Michaels
Here’s a statistic for you: One dollar will buy you 1,200 calories of processed garbage that will likely make you fat or sick, or both. Conversely, that same buck will only nab you 250 calories of healthy food (fruits, vegetables, organic meat, whole grains) that can help maintain a healthy body weight and prevent disease.
Bummer, right? What’s wrong with this picture? How did this happen? While I can preach personal accountability until the cows come home with regards to health and wellness, the bottom line is that for most American families subsisting on 50K a year, 250 calories for a dollar doesn’t cut it. Healthy food simply isn’t accessible or affordable to them. It’s tough to blame people for not living a lifestyle that is simply out of their reach.
Here’s another stat for you: In the 1960s we spent 18 percent of our annual income on food. Today we spend 9 percent. But before you get too excited… In the 1960s we spent 5 percent of our annual income on health care. Today, we spend 17 percent. Yay? I think not. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather spend that income on broccoli and chicken than on chemo treatments, Lipitor, or gastric bypass surgery.
As a result of these statistics, obesity and disease in America have run rampant. Two in three adults and one in three children are overweight. Diabetes, heart disease, and cancer rates have skyrocketed over the last 30 years. Our children are predicted to have a lesser life expectancy than their parents, for the first time in human history.
So what the hell is happening here? How has it come to pass that our food system sets Americans up to become fat and sick? Well, in large part we have our federal agribusiness policies to thank.
Although the USDA’s food pyramid recommends two to five cups of fruits and vegetables per day, its budget—mandated by Congress through the Farm Bill—encourages different behavior altogether.
Under the Farm Bill, the great bulk of USDA largesse flows to five crops: genetically modified corn, genetically modified soy, cotton, wheat, and rice. Of the $113.6 billion in commodity subsidy payments, a.k.a. your tax dollars, distributed by the USDA between 1995 and 2004, corn drew $41.8 billion—more than cotton, soy, and rice combined. And, to point out the obvious, NONE of our subsidy dollars are going toward fruits and vegetables (with the exception of apples, generally processed into cheap sweeteners).
The huge corn and soy payouts encourage overproduction, and have helped sustain a long-term trend of falling prices. And cheap corn and soy, underwritten by the subsidy program, have subsequently changed the diet of every American. These crops in particular lend themselves perfectly to the processing of cheap consumables that are passed off as food. A perfect example of this would be the booming market for high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes. HFCS now accounts for nearly half of the caloric sweeteners added to processed food, and is the sole caloric sweetener for mass-market soft drinks. Between 1975 and 1997, per-capita consumption of it jumped from virtually nothing to 60.4 pounds per year. Yikes.
Why would our government set us up for failure in this way? Simple. Because the special-interest groups who stand to gain from this policy, such as Monsanto, Liberty, and so forth, lobby our representatives in Washington and make generous contributions to their election campaigns. You see, companies like Monsanto own the patents on these GMO seeds. In addition, they sell the pesticides and synthetic fertilizers the seeds require to thrive. Without the Farm Bill, these guys would be in big trouble.
So what do we do, and how do we get out of this mess? The solution is multifaceted. First, grassroots, community-driven efforts are critical in fighting federal policy to transform the American diet. Make efforts to support your local farmers. Join a CSA. Grow your own. Reallocate your funds so that you stop wasting money on bottled water and toxic cleaning or beauty products, and put it into organics whenever possible.
Second, stay educated and aware of what’s going on, so you can fight back. Did you know that President Obama has approved three new GMO crops in the last year, despite the fact that the garden in his own backyard is organic? Attend one of the anti-GMO rallies that are currently taking place across the country. Sign petitions to demand that GMO foods be labeled. Write your representatives and ask them to reverse the Farm Bill in 2012. Demand that our tax dollars go to subsidize organic fruits and vegetables, so that healthy foods will be affordable and accessible to all Americans.
Here’s what you can’t do—bury your head in the sand. We vote with our dollars. We the people must reflect this change personally, and demand these changes from our government. With diligence and determination we will win this fight. I’ll see you on the frontlines.
This contest has now ended.