Fruits and veggies may be on the plates of our students, but they’re pretty much nowhere on the list of agricultural subsidies for U.S. farmers. When it comes to understanding the difference between what the USDA thinks we should eat and what the U.S. Farm Bill subsidizes, look no further than two layouts for the White House Kitchen Garden.
The first garden established on White House grounds since World War II, the First Lady’s 2011 edition was laid out with a treasure trove of tasty greens, legumes, a bed of herbs and splashes of tempting fruit. Kitchen Gardeners International took that same footprint, proportionally transformed it according to farm bill subsidies, and ended up with a garden that was 90 percent corn, wheat, cotton and soybeans. Fruits, vegetables, nuts and “other specialty crops” made up just one half of one percent of the layout – one corner of one garden bed.
It’s always dangerous to take an overly simplistic view of public policy, given how far away we are from the plate when food is grown and other external factors at play. In 2010, for example, China was the top importer of U.S. agricultural products – most likely a whole lot of corn, wheat, cotton and soybeans – and perhaps the subsidies helped create an attractively priced product.
Still, one can’t help but wonder why the same government that espouses five-to-seven portions of fruits and vegetables per day, and struggles for a comprehensive response to a national obesity pandemic, would potentially be working at cross purposes. One percent of the total corn crop ends up on plates as whole kernel food. Much of the rest flows directly into 4,000 available supermarket products and indirectly into thousands of others through animal feed and processed food ingredients, enabling less healthy foods to be cheaper, tastier and more filling alternatives.
If you want a salad to go with all that corn that lurks in those cheaper foods, you might have to try stopping by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to get it.