I've been reading Marion Nestle's Illustrated Guide to Food Politics, Eat Drink Vote. I highly recommend reading it. It contains selections of cartoons from the vaults of The Cartoonist Group. Essentially, Marion narrates and then includes a bunch of really well drawn political food cartoons that discuss the same topic. It's a fun, fast read and remarkably powerful. That's the impact of effective cartoons. Her book inspired me to do a post in a similar vein. Here are a few political food cartoons with my brief narration.
(None of the cartoons are mine. I lack those skills.)
Crops Grown for Ethanol Instead of Food
A large contributor to the increase in food prices is that the US government mandated increases in the percentage of ethanol to be mixed with gasoline. Unfortunately, it is debatable whether or not ethanol even adds to our energy supply at all, with my sources firmly stating that it does not. What is not contentious is the result. By 2012 more than 40% of corn grown in the US was used to produce ethanol instead of being used for human consumption. This drives up food prices. Not only here in the US, but global food prices as well, which is a huge contributing factor to the unrest that is occurring in many unstable countries. There is no debating that fact. My personal belief is that increasing the ethanol content in gasoline was a poor decision. In 2012, the UN actually urged the US to stop the ethanol mandate. Different US industries fall on different sides of the argument due to their respective interests. To learn more and formulate your own opinion, research 'Food Versus Fuel' for the latest on the debate.
Marketing of Food Products
Food products are marketed constantly. CONSTANTLY. Ad campaigns are everywhere, from TV, radio, billboards, toys-with-food campaigns, placement in grocery stores —that's a thing, btw. Companies actually pay for prime shelf location— company sponsorships of health initiatives/charities/sporting events (however ironically), and even populating our schools. (Yikes!) Children have become a high priority for marketers for a multitude of profit-based reasons and the results are pretty staggering. Childhood obesity is a now an epidemic. Parents are losing the (newly created) battle of what their kids should eat. Due to exposure of branded food products (even being sold and marketed IN their schools) children are requesting certain food products and feeling educated in what they should eat. Unfortunately, this "education" has nothing to do with health and everything to do with profits— straight from the animated tiger's mouth to your child's ear. For the record: children should eat food. YOUR FOOD. Kids menus should not exist unless they are simply smaller portions of adult meals. Children should not eat ONLY mac-and-cheese as a dinner. If they want some mac-and-cheese, it should be a small side dish served with their vegetables and protein. Children will learn to eat "adult food" if you actually feed it to them.
Should we create laws that restrict marketing to children? Should we instead simply focus on educating adults and families about what healthy eating really means? Should we bother doing anything at all or is obesity (and other chronic diseases related to diet) a personal problem?
Seeing as how in the US we have rising costs of health care that are affecting everyone's wallet, I would argue that even if you fall on the side of "obesity is a personal responsibility," society is still paying the price.
Government involvement in the food system has a LOT of avenues. There are government subsidies, conservation and insurance support programs that directly pay commodity crop producers (to the tune of $20 Billion (with a B) a year in the 2008 Farm Bill) general food consumption recommendations such as the current MyPlate format (an update of the Food Pyramid that first debuted in 1992 and was very oddly redrawn in 2005), and laws that can either benefit or hurt particular food industry profits (with well-paid industry lobbyists always attempting to influence all of the above) just to name a few.
There's even laws that are meant to improve public health by outright banning certain things. While preventing companies from putting rat poison in foods meant for human consumption is legitimate, there is a difference between keeping people from unknowingly harming themselves and allowing people to make educated poor choices. Personally, I think that New York Mayor Bloomberg made a mockery of himself by trying to ban large soda. Making large-sized sodas ILLEGAL was dumb, but the need to educate people about the dangers of consuming that much soda is very necessary.
There's also SNAP, which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the updated version of food stamps since it now uses electronic cards instead of stamps. Two things are true about food assistance in the US: 1. Despite the abundance of food in America, hunger IS an issue. Due to inconsistent access to food in this country, 15% of Americans are food insecure. Approximately 47 million people are eligible for some amount of food assistance today. 2. SNAP costs a lot of money. About $75 Billion (with a B) in 2012. The latest Farm Bill (which covers SNAP) just passed with rather deep cuts to the SNAP budget. My personal belief is that a country as wealthy as the US should not have starving citizens, especially hungry children. 22% of American children live in homes below the poverty line. Hunger is a contributing factor to poor school performance and behavior problems. At the same time, do we need to develop a better way of dealing with food security in this country? You bet.
USDA Web site
USDA/ERS Economic Research Report No. ERR-141 September 2012
Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, July 2012
GMOs, Antibiotics and Hormones
What the heck is in our food?!
These days that is a legitimate question because there are a lot of new things happening. GMOs, which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms (or the term that I prefer: Transgenic), have become common place in our food system without any long term testing. And they aren't being labeled. To read more about GMOs, read my previous post about them HERE.
There's also a lot of hormones, pesticides, herbicides and other additives being pumped, sprayed and mixed in our food. Despite industry money that funds research that (surprise!) says that their company's products are safe, more and more independent research points to connections between these chemicals and cancer, endocrine disruption and even obesity.
I could keep this post going for a while with many different topics because political cartoonists have a done a wonderful job tackling a lot of food and health topics. For now, I will leave you with those.