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Farm Bill 2014: Business as Usual for Big Agriculture

“This isn’t your father’s Farm Bill.” These were the optimistic words of Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, in a statement on her Web site Tuesday, after the Senate voted to finally pass a farm bill. The $1-trillion dollar, five-year bill had been in the works for over two years, prompting food and agriculture companies to spend $150 million in lobbying dollars.

And let’s face it, any movement in Congress feels long overdue and a little relieving these days, simply because it’s just so rare. But does this new bill really represent a radical departure from farm bills past? Not so much. Read more

From Charity to Solidarity: Lessons from Canada’s Community Food Center

Most Americans think of Canadians as their nice northern neighbors, prone to superfluous apologies. Sorry (yes) to burst that bubble, but we also have a deep self-congratulatory streak. Among ourselves we can be smug, extoling the virtues of our kinder, gentler social safety net. These hard-won achievements are worthy of a few pats on the back, sure, even though as in most other nations in the industrialized world, that net is growing taut and frayed. Read more

Oh, SNAP: The Real Costs of Food Stamp Cuts

On October 16, Congress ended the government shutdown, bringing to a close a two-week distraction from critical issues facing the country. During this period of partisan politicking, some may have forgotten about the House Republicans’ plan to gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps, by $39 billion over the next 10 years.  Read more

The Anti Hunger-Industrial Complex

What do fast food worker strikes and a DC living wage ordinance have in common with Hunger Action Month? Unfortunately, not enough. A wave of one-day strikes against fast food restaurants is rolling across the country. On August 29, thousands of workers in more than 50 cities protested their low wages, demanding a raise to $15/hour. In Washington, Mayor Vincent Gray has on his desk the Large Retailer Accountability Act that would raise minimum wage for employees of new Walmart stores to $12.50/hour, up from current average of $8.81 nationally. Walmart has threatened to halt construction on three new stores in the nation’s capital if he signs the bill. Read more

Photo Essay Shows Human Dimension of Food Stamps

More Americans than ever before, 50 million, are in poverty. One in seven people rely on the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps. And they are not always the people you might expect. Formerly middle class families, recent veterans, college graduates and farmworkers are featured in this new photo essay, the latest report produced by the Food & Environment Reporting Network in collaboration with Switchyard Media, which first appeared on MSN. Read more

Farm Bill Jackpot: How Much do Corporations Benefit from SNAP?

With the debate over the 2012 Farm Bill currently underway in the Senate, most of the media’s attention has been focused on how direct payments—subsidies doled out regardless of actual farming—are being replaced with crop insurance, in a classic shell game that Big Ag’s powerful lobby is likely to pull off.

Meanwhile, the Senate may hurt the less powerful by cutting $4.5 billion from the largest piece of the farm bill pie: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps). Reducing this lifeline for 46 million struggling Americans (more than 1 in 7—nearly half of them children) has become a sideshow in the farm bill circus, even though SNAP spending grew to $78 billion in 2011, and is projected to go higher if the economy does not improve. Read more

SNAP: the Other Corporate Subsidy in the Farm Bill?

This week Congress begins hearings on the 2012 farm bill, the massive piece of legislation that gets updated about every five years and undergirds America’s entire food supply, but that few mortals can even understand. As nutrition professor Marion Nestle recently lamented, “no one has any idea what the farm bill is about. It’s too complicated for any mind to grasp.”

Nestle also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) “the huge elephant in the farm bill” because its enormity trumps everything else. This entitlement program (the budget expands as more people enroll) provides modest monthly benefits for food purchases and represents a critical lifeline to many people in need.

In recent years, public health and food policy experts have sounded the alarm about how farm bill programs supporting all the wrong crops (think corn and soy) contribute to America’s epidemic of obesity and diet-related diseases. This is certainly true, along with a host of other economic drivers.

But are we focusing too much on the commodity title and not enough on the nutrition title when it comes to how the farm bill truly subsidizes Big Food? After all, even if the commodity title was completely eliminated, most economists believe it would have minimal impact on healthy food consumption. Read more

How to Stay a Foodie Family on Food Stamps

When I first lost my job, we applied for emergency food assistance. Then, when I saw how little was provided for our family of five, I went into panic mode and bought the cheapest stuff I could find: a coffin-sized crate of ramen noodle packages, a box of Cheerios as big as an ottoman. No longer did I shop for the “best”—organic, free range, all natural—I was now shopping for the cheapest.

And I was not alone in trying to negotiate this shift from affluent foodie to poverty-level mom just trying to feed her family on next to nothing. Take a look at the numbers and be startled along with me. As you can see, there was an unprecedented jump in participants in the program after the Great Recession in 2008 began. Suddenly, families who were unaccustomed to financial struggle joined the ranks of the truly needy, and we didn’t know how to shop for it! And still, after a few years of this “New Poor” culture, we are looked at with derision when we try to maintain our values as careful consumers and healthy eaters.

Thankfully, however, there are ways to make a mountain (of produce) out of a molehill (of money.) Read more

The Child Nutrition Bill: A Litmus Test for Future Food Policy

When the House returns to work this week they will likely be considering the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, twice extended as legislators struggled over the details. According to The Hill 80 percent of Americans support expansion of the act to “provide healthier food and cover more kids.” Yet in the current climate of economic crisis, finding the funding for this expansion has been a nearly insurmountable challenge. If this bill is not passed within the current lame-duck session, the new session of Congress will have to start over, perhaps with a diminished commitment to its expansion. In fact, there is reason to believe that there will be no work done the week after Thanksgiving, which means this week is make-or-break week for the bill. Read more