Let’s rethink food systems

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For those not following the farm bill debate, here’s a quick recap and a little reminder on how this legislation impacts all of us regardless of occupation or location. 

Last Thursday (June 20) the House of Representatives voted down its own legislation, which would have set up a process for reconciliation with the passed Senate version. Until the House gets something passed, Congress is likely at a stand still on this issue.

Aside from House’s much more significant across-the-board cuts, the real important difference is what the each body intends to chop.

The Farm Bill, despite its title covers a wide range of topics including the food assistance, environmental protection, rural development, energy, and much more. The passed Senate version of the bill cut about $4.1 billion from SNAP and Heat-and-Eat programs and requires certain retailers to begin buying the (previously free) EBT machines. The version does have some positive resultssuch as continuing the Healthy Food Financing Initiative and mandating five farm to school demonstration projects. The House version, however, provides more drastic cuts to the SNAP program, in excess of $20 billion. It would also greatly reduce the number of qualified recipients, excluding college students and undocumented immigrants. (See Land Stewardship Project Blog for more info on cuts)

Since the recession, an increasing number of individuals and families have found it harder to pay for food. A combination of rising food prices and stagnant wages ensures that a greater proportion of income will now be spent on food. This rise can also be seen in the skyrocketing rates of students on free and reduced meal programs, both in Minnesota and in the nation. These problems are paired with rising obesity and nutritional deficiency problems in the US and the results could be disastrous. With our current food system in the country, there is a policy of mass producing cheap and unhealthy foods. When household and individual budgets become tight, fresh, healthy and balanced meals are no longer within weekly reach.

SNAP was designed as a nutritional assistance program to supplement people who are forced to choose between eating healthy and getting enough to eat. It seems to follow that in times of rising nutritional and hunger need that this sort of assistance program would not be drastically cut. Families, students, and individuals who have come upon hard times have a right to be able to eat enough nutritionally balanced food, especially in a state where such food could be more available. We need to talk about our priorities as a state and nation. We simply cannot afford to continue with this unhealthy system.