New Ag Secretary Discusses Child Nutrition, Health Care in Address to USDA Employees

New Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, discussed the difficult economic issues facing the country, discrimination at the USDA, and health care and nutrition issues yesterday in a wide-ranging address to USDA employees. “The health care issue is a big issue…that’s why it’s important to promote a nutritious diet…and make sure children have access to healthy foods,” he told a packed audience. In a question and answer session following his remarks, he alluded to an article, “Farmer in Chief,” published last October in the New York Times by Author Michael Pollan. “If it had been president Pollan, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” he joked. Many comments in the press and blogs following his nomination were critical of Vilsak’s ties to big agriculture interests, particularly the biofuel industry. He appeared to be sensitive to that in answering the question saying, “We have to listen to critics and criticism of the food system in this country,” adding, “We have without question an epidemic of juvenile diabetes. If we’re interested in making sure our resources are spent wisely….we have to address this issue.” There’s a short piece in today’s Des Moines Register about his address and a full video clip available on USDA’s web site.

-Chris Stevens

What goes in Obama’s mouth may be as important as what comes out.

Leaders in the sustainable agriculture community are not the only ones trying to bend the Obama Transition Team’s ear toward a healthy, sustainable food system (see blog post from 12/23/08). As a recent New York Times article pointed out, everyone from foodies to farmers , chefs to consumers, has high hopes for how Obama will address food issues.

Will there be a new White House chef who concentrates on using local organic ingredients? Will those ingredients come from food grown on the white house lawn? (Those from The Who Farm and Eat the View certainly hope so).  A White House organic garden or a First Family fed organic food would be highly visible symbolic gestures for broader policy changes-changes that could slow global warming, protect our national security and improve our population’s health. Michael Pollan’s open letter to the ‘Farmer in Chief ‘and a recent op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor discussed what some of these policy actions to should look like. (Both noted the importance of eliminating large scale industrial animal farming as we know it.) And, an op-ed in today’s Boston globe noted that Obama would do well to listen to such advice rather than succumb to agri-business pressure, displaying “the courage to defend what the likes of Michael Pollan have to say, without apology.” Read More >