I've tried my best to steer away from getting into politics on my blog, but I felt I needed to post about this one.
In a recent conversation from his radio show, Rush Limbaugh defended Walmart for "selling crud" to those on food stamps. Rush is not the champion of free market that he would lead you to believe. He'd rather protect corporate interests than the interests of the American tax payer. Rush claims that plenty of stores sell highly processed foods and that it's not the government's place to fix the problem - oh, but it is, Rush!
If the government is spending money to feed people, shouldn't that food be healthy food that won't lead to health complications? ...Health complications which will probably cost tax-payer money too? Regardless of how you feel about the health care debate in the US, the fact is if you need immediate medical assistance, you will receive it - period. Who ends up paying for that is up in the air, but it usually comes from the hospital's bottom line and the government (at one level or another).
Ok, health problems may end up costing us somehow, but we're paying for people's food that live on food stamps, so why not give them good food? I'm not talking about filet mignon, fine wine and imported Kobe beef - I just mean basic staples like bread, produce and meats. Why give a hungry family a tube of mass-produced, ammonia-treated, brine-pumped, pink slime with fillers that passes for ground beef? Why feed a growing child "fruit drink" when we can provide them with real juice, from actual fruit? Why give them a sandwich made of slabs of bleached flower with the majority of the nutrition removed, then added back in at the minimum reportable amount for marketing? The answer lies in cost and how much each food item costs the shopping parent with the food stamps - not necessarily what the healthiest option is.
In an article from the Huffington Post, one MD discusses the hidden cost of "cheap" foods. No shocker, that discount comes at a price. A price paid by, you guessed it, the Federal government. Corn, soy, sugar and several other "big foods" get federal dollars in the form of subsidies to artificially drive down their costs. These lower costs are passed on to food producers for inclusion in their products. Food corporations also get incentives to include these agricultural products in their products. They are included in the form of High Fructose Corn Syrup which is used for sweetener instead of the more easily digested table sugar. Corn is added just about anywhere it can as fillers or oil. Because of the low cost of sugar, it costs less to buy a processed candy bar than it does to buy a single apple. Calorie for calorie, it costs more to fill up on produce than it does to fill up on processed foods. "Processed", by the way, usually means fillers, byproducts and subsidized food.
In Rush's radio show, he says he thinks "there's a nation on earth that has fed itself better than this one". You're right, Rush. Nobody has fed itself better than we used to. We used to not let greedy, multinational corporations produce the overwhelming majority of food consumed in this country, nor did we let those corporations steer public policy on the matter either. By letting the bottom line of those corporations grow fatter than our waist lines, we've become the fattest country in the world, and not because we're eating right. Our quality of food has declined from America's heyday, and that is directly attributed to lobbyists and special interests.
Rush says the lie is that the private sector is failing basic human needs, but the private sector, by in large, is failing basic human needs: they're feeding people garbage and watching their profits soar. There are many small companies with far smaller logistic chains fighting fierce competition to feed people right, but these private labels get swallowed up by Big Food.
Unfortunately, Rush is also wrong when he says the government can't fix the problem. The problem directly lies in subsidies. When we stop artificially lowering the cost of many of the filler foods full of empty calories, the real price of food will show through. The public will see that eating healthy is actually cheaper in reality than the subsidized products Big Food is pushing. If we're going to subsidize, only subsidize the food products that actually reach consumers' mouths directly.