The poor state of our country’s health may not be making the headlines at the moment, but the statistics are stark: More than 75 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are from diseases linked to unhealthful diet: heart disease, cancer, stroke, liver disease and high blood pressure.
This reflects poorly on the traditional Western diet, but it’s not all bad news. Food trends show that more people are taking their health into their own hands by changing their diet. When it comes to unhealthy food, the primary culprits are meat and dairy, which are high in saturated fat and cholesterol, and over-sweetened processed food.
On the other hand, plant-based diets, which are naturally nutrient-rich, low in fat and cholesterol-free, are growing in popularity. Several months ago, Business Week profiled some of those discerning eaters who choose a plant-based diet, like Bill Clinton and Russell Simmons.
Even Mike Tyson claims to eschew meat and dairy for better health. Kathy Freston’s book on veganism hit No. 1 on Amazon’s bestseller list and Dr. Neal Barnard has recently released a day-by-day guide, The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, to making the switch.
This trend is great news if you care about the health of our country, so why is Congress delegating billions of dollars that will support the production of the unhealthiest food – meat, dairy and sweeteners for processed food – while fruits and vegetables receive a small fraction?
If you don’t like the idea of your tax dollars going to monopolizing agricultural operations that are flooding the market with pizza and other junk food, now is the time to speak up. Congress is gearing up to vote on the legislation that perpetuates this system of misplaced subsidies.
Misleadingly referred to as the “Farm Bill,” this legislation doesn’t benefit the family farmers who grow the bell peppers and squash in your stew, but the businesses that convert crops like corn into corn syrup and soy into feed for the cows and pigs who end up in a McDonald’s wrapper.
Agricultural Subsidies and the Food Market
The result of our current agricultural subsidies program is an artificially controlled market that ensures our grocery stores and eateries carry a large amount of foods high in saturated fat, cholesterol and high-fructose corn syrup. These are exactly the types of food we should be avoiding if we want to stay healthy.
In 2012, Congress will have an opportunity to fix agricultural subsidies in a way that will help real farmers and everyday people.
By reducing federal subsidies that boost the production of meat, dairy and high-fructose corn syrup and leveling the playing field for fruit and vegetable farmers, more Americans will be able to buy the wholesome foods they need to stay healthy.
An additional benefit to this reform would be that smaller farms that practice sustainable agriculture could more fairly compete with environmentally destructive mega-operations.
Another benefit would be a savings in health care costs. Being unhealthy is expensive. The annual medical cost of heart disease alone is about $189.4 billion per year.
Want to cut the federal budget? Have a country of healthy people.
Aligning agricultural subsidies with nutritional recommendations would save lives, money and farmers. That means less heart surgeries, cleaner rivers and more fresh vegetables and fruit – a sweet alternative for everyone.
Elizabeth Kucinich is an experienced policy analyst and legislative advocate and the Director of Public and Government Affairs for Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC.
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