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Are Farm Subsidies Crushing the American Diet Dream?

October 12, 2011

Earlier this year, the USDA revamped the food pyramid and created a diagram called “My Plate.” This new and improved guide to the ideal diet is divided into sections to illustrate how a meal should appear. One half of the plate is designated for fruit and vegetables, about a fifth for protein, and a quarter for grains. Dairy is presented on a smaller plate or glass to the side.

My Plate seems to be a step in the right direction for the USDA to improving the standard American diet. The protein section is much smaller than it was in the food pyramid, while the fruit and vegetable serving is larger, encouraging the recommended daily servings of 2 and 2 ½ cups respectively.

While My Plate seems like a good idea, is it really possible for every American to eat this way?

According to an article in the Washington Post, it’s not. Increasing fruit and vegetable intake to the amount now recommended by the USDA for all Americans would require an increase of 13 million acres of farmland designated for this kind of food production.

The problem is, farmers are not encouraged to grow any kind of fresh produce by the US government, who provided $200 billion in subsidies to commodity farmers from 1995 to 2010. Two-thirds of this money went to animal-feed crops, tobacco and cotton. The remaining subsidies went to human-food crops, including wheat, peanuts, rice, oil seeds, sweeteners and crops that were turned into ethanol.

Farmers who grow fruits, vegetables, or tree nuts do not receive any of the government subsidies. Representative Sam Farr (D) of California, whose district includes some of the most productive fruit and vegetable farms in the country, says that his farmers “don’t get a dime of support from the federal government. If the market falls, they eat it. If a disaster comes in, they eat it…they grow what they call ‘specialty crops’ – that’s the stuff you eat all the time.”

It seems that even with a new food diagram, the Big Ag meat, dairy and commodity farmers have a tight grip on the American farm system, making it impossible for My Plate to be an accurate depiction of the American diet. Our food system is proving again that it is broken, what do you think we could do to fix it?