The Ideological Debate on Food “Security”

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Partisan politics is common today, and since the election of a number of fiscally conservative members to the House of Representatives over the last 8 years, political news anchors much of what the legislative branch of the government does through the lens of economic data. In “Get excited for more ‘farm bill’ drama, coming soon to Congress,” Erika Johnsen discusses the debate over the omnibus legislation that deals with farm subsidies and food subsidies for Americans. As Johnsen points out, the debate and legislative action around the 2013 “farm bill” has less to do with finding solutions to problems and more to do with politicians protecting their political interests and using the legislation as a proving ground for an ideological economic battle. Ultimately, the real losers are the Americans who are food insecure as well as any American family for whom food costs are burdensome.

The issue at stake as Johnsen points out centers around the budget associated with, “food stamps and the egregious corporate welfare divvied out to the agriculture sector and their many lobbies” (2013). House Republicans are concerned about “fiscal responsibility” while House Democrats, according to the article, are only interested in “demagoguery” (Johnsen 2013). Removing the political bias from the article, it seems as if a political fight exists around how much funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program receives and an ideological debate over the necessity of farm subsidies. The cost of these programs and the suspected and identified waste have many lawmakers wondering how much money can be removed from the programs without upsetting entrenched lawmakers and special interests. The long-term problem faced is the issue of mismanaged and unnecessary spending and doing little to solve the problem of food insecurity for America’s vulnerable populations, namely the poor and the elderly.

The significance of the issue cannot be understated because the farming industry and SNAP create and provide access to a person’s the most important and recurring basic need—food. However, the costs of these programs have been identified by some as being part of the economic problem that America has with spending more than it brings in. The omnibus legislation seems to exacerbate the deficit issues while not solving the problem of food insecurity. Johnsen wants to blame the Obama administration for “why food-stamp enrollment has skyrocketed and [why] there are so many more food-insecure households” (2013). The author does not cite compelling evidence to link the cause, but the problem identified is serious—the system is broken if Americans are paying more money to a program that serves fewer people.

There is bipartisan support for protecting food security for people living in poverty such as some residents in Newark, New Jersey, and of that group, according to the Administration on Aging, 4.6 million seniors are among American living in poverty (2012). As programs are cut from a holistic level, the result on individuals can be accidentally cruel. No decent human being wants another person to suffer unduly; however, by keeping the issue of food security economic and holistic, lawmakers miss the point of solving the problem—using the available resources to reduce the number of people living in food insecurity.

Today’s seniors, including newly retiring baby boomers, are going to have access to whatever social security policy remains until health care costs and a larger number of recipients and a smaller number of contributors breaks the system. While most senior households today are food secure, without the social safety nets in place 20 years from now and without substantive reform to how the government spends and manages resources related to agriculture and food assistance, the problem will only worsen.

The solution to a productive, efficient, and solvent food system will not come through budget ideologies. While there is merit in correcting loopholes and unintended mismanagement in food policy legislation, smarter legislation could aid the food production industry to help eliminate food waste. As the Natural Resource Defense Council notes, “The U.S. government should conduct a comprehensive study for food losses in our food system and establish national goals for food waste reduction” (2012). Just as Americans have come to accept and adopt better recycling habits, making food waste reduction part of the national consciousness will help reduce costs.

Likewise, a smarter strategy to address vulnerable populations is needed. In truth, food insecurity is not a national issue, it is a local issue. It is the issue of an individual or family in a community not having resources to obtain or access to food. Because there is not a food production shortage in America, it becomes feasible then that communities could solve the issue with a targeted program of charitable giving and subsidy that given directly to a community farm in order to benefit members in that community. Instead of giving a family a debit card to purchase anything in the grocery store, including nutritionally deficient food such as potato chips and ice cream, families would receive food from a farm, with federal assistance being used to pay the smaller farms directly.

What was most interesting about this article is how it discussed the topic of agriculture policy in terms of budgeting and money instead of the programs’ outcomes. If lawmakers are only going to focus on the financial cost of the program without looking at its outcomes and are going to promote on ideologies instead of rational and concrete solutions, nothing will be accomplished and the food security of our vulnerable populations will be moot.

References

Administration on Aging (Nov. 2012). A Profile of Older Americans. Retrieved from http://www.aoa.gov/Aging_Statistics/Profile/2012/10.aspx.

Johnsen, E. (5 September 2013). Get excited for more “farm bill” drama, coming soon to Congress. Retrieved from http://hotair.com/archives/2013/09/05/get-excited-for-more-farm-bill-drama-coming-soon-to-congress/

Natural Resources Defense Council (21 August 2012). Wasted: How America is losing up to 40 percent of its food from farm to fork to landfill. Retrieved from http://www.nrdc.org/food/wasted-food.asp.