Food Fight

By Beacon Staff

Most in Congress ignore the growing hunger for better food. Today a budding constituency is fed up with the quality of our school lunches and the laboratory modifications made to real food.

Food has become a social movement. It makes sense: people make eating decisions three times a day. And eaters do not like all that junk added to processed food, ingredients that you cannot even pronounce.

A few years back, the Montana Legislature debated a bill that required the labeling of cloned meat and milk products. A session prior, a bill required labeling of genetically engineered foods. Labeling affords consumers a food choice.

Needless to say, Big Ag worked relentlessly to slaughter the labeling concepts in the Legislature. If citizens want their engineered or cloned foods labeled, they may have to do it through initiative.

First Lady Michelle Obama has proven a tireless advocate for healthier school lunches and better food choices for kids. Obama tilled a vegetable plot onto the White House lawn, the first Victory Garden since Eleanor Roosevelt worked the dirt during the war. The garden is a powerful symbol to encourage others to grow their own food.

During WWII, the U.S. military advocated for better school lunches as recruits were in poor physical condition due to malnutrition. Today a battalion of retired military generals insists it is time to reexamine school lunch menus as recruits pose a national security threat because youngsters are “too fat to fight.”

Montana Sen. Jon Tester is the only active farmer left in the U.S. Senate. He grew up “picking rocks” on his grandfather’s farm. He now operates an organic farm, growing crops like lentils, peas, barley and wheat.

Tester made a name for himself as an advocate for agriculture. He assured that small-scale farming remained viable and safe during the corporate food security debates. If not for Tester and his farming background, no one in Congress may have stood up for family farms.

Small-scale farming operations are springing up around Montana, as more young people return to the land to grow real food. Young farmers and fresh consumers are the vital components for this food-based movement.

Even old-timers again recognize that foodies are concerned with not only how their food is grown, but also who their farmer actually is.

Recently Tester wrote a letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and said, “The skills young people acquire from family agriculture translates into a healthy work ethic that will serve them their entire lives, whether they choose to stay in agriculture or not.” He said that family agriculture is one of the foundations of America.

Mark Bittman is the lead food columnist for the New York Times. He is the author of “Food Matters,” which looks at the crucial connections between food, health and the environment. Bittman recently praised Tester for having the “guts to fight Big Ag.”

This year, one of the biggest bouts heading toward Congress is the Farm Bill – more aptly renamed the Food Bill. This is massive policy dealing with all things food. It will decide big issues for small family farms, for local farmers’ markets, for food stamps for the hungry, and for infants drinking formula.

This bill will be a real food fight in Congress. Count on Big Ag demanding their subsidy for corn syrup in soda pop and genetically engineered crops like corn or soy. Oddly, the only issue this bill will likely not debate is the labeling of engineered and cloned foods.

One food truism is too simple to ignore. No amount of corporate political marketing can change the fact that what we eat and whom we elect to Congress will affect our families’ health for decades to come.