When it comes to changing the food system, Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) might be the most outspoken member of Congress yet. Now in his sixth term, Ryan is the author of Real Food Revolution, Healthy Eating, Green Groceries, and the Return of the American Family Farm. Former President Bill Clinton describes the book as “a straightforward and much-needed prescription to help transform our country’s food systems and improve our well-being.”
We spoke with Congressman Ryan about added sugar, the farm bill, and his guilty food pleasures.
In Real Food Revolution you detail our broken food system. Do you have one “big idea” that concerned eaters can rally around for change?
Shift subsidies. We’re now subsidizing crops that are leading to highly processed foods made with high fructose corn syrup and soy oil because we’re making those crops and those products artificially cheap with taxpayers’ dollars. That’s leading to a great deal of sickness in our country. In five years, half the country is either going to have diabetes or pre-diabetes. If we took those billions of dollars from subsidizing those particular crops and we shifted them to farmers so that they could grow fresh fruits and vegetables, I think we would move in the direction of having healthy foods be affordable and accessible to all Americans and therefore use that food as our medicine to bring down health care costs.
What do you say to the farmers and their lobbyists who like the current subsidy system?
I think farmers will be fine as long as we say, “we just want you to grow something different and we’ll help create a market for you.” Our public institutions, our schools, our universities, and our prisons all spend a good deal of money on food budgets. So if we increased locally sourced fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, etc. [through subsidies] and tied the local farmers into those institutional markets, then they would have a place to sell the food.
You have the food industry that can push back, but I think there’s a place for all of them in this new system. The bottom line is we’re a sick country and they need to do their duty to make sure that we move the system in a healthier direction.
I’m sure there will be some big fights about it, which is why I’ve spent a good deal of time trying to rally people around the country to be a part of the movement, and so their members of Congress–whether they’re in Kansas or Ohio or New York City–have the political support to go out and push this change.
You’re also highly critical of processed foods. Can you say more?
Highly processed food is the main culprit. And added sugar. Take a container of yogurt. It says 24 grams of sugar on the label, but you have no idea what that means. There’s no daily allowance next to it either.
One of the simple things we’ve done is sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking to convert these grams into teaspoons so that the average American can actually understand that there’s four grams of white, granulated sugar in every teaspoon. All of a sudden the average mom or dad out there buying it says, “Wow, that’s six teaspoons of sugar?”
I can’t picture myself giving my child six teaspoons of sugar and expecting them to behave normally. We wonder why they are bouncing off the walls. Then we discipline them or they try to sit in a desk and learn algebra. We’re setting these kids up for failure.
Consumers appear to be waking up, as evident in the decline of junk food sales and McDonald’s recent announcement that it is phasing out antibiotics in chicken. But there’s little evidence that federal policy will catch up any time soon. How do we make change in Congress?
I hate to say that but if you look at civil rights, if you look at women’s rights, Congress is always last. The country shifts and then Congress is last to come in and then they actually do something about it that is very important.
I'm looking forward to reading your book.
If we as a country are going to make the change....let's go all the way!!!
concerned about our food and the link
between processed food and our health.
Look forward to reading what you've written about
Thanks for what you're doing and continue
this important work.
A concerned citizen
Much of what Tim Ryan proposes is excellent and if it leads to the extinction of GMO's it will be of benefit to all except the corrupt corporations who are only interested in their profits and not the health of the population.
I have been sick for 5 years and am slowly figuring out it stems from the toxins in everything.
I also believe it is a contributing factor to depression.
Please continue to push this effort to make a huge difference.