10 in 10: Ensure Every American Child Has Access to Healthy and Affordable Food: A “Gentle” Wish For a New Decade

10in101A new decade brings new opportunities and challenges. The interaction between diet and health received significant attention during “The Aughts.” What will we do during this next decade to respond to the call for action for a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle? This is the fourth in a continuing series highlighting 10 ways you can help this year.


Knowing that the obesity epidemic in the United States has some scientists predicting that for the first time in history American children will live shorter lives than their parents, my wish for the next decade is to see First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and his administration succeed in their mission to ensure that every American child has access to healthy and affordable food. A recent gathering of Obama Administration officials invited to discuss their efforts to improve America’s food system left me hopeful that my wish will come true.

Courtesy: White House Blog

Courtesy: White House Blog

Last month in D.C. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Dora Hughes, Counselor to the Secretary of Health, and Sam Kass, White House assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator for the First Lady each shared their goals for the next year during an event for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Community Program. Surprisingly it wasn’t their words that left me so inspired; rather it was the words of 10-year-old David Martinez-Ruiz. Kass shared with the audience a letter that the D.C. elementary school student had presented to the First Lady following his class visit to the White House Garden.

One of the things that I want to say about being at the White House was how gentle the feeling was. It felt surprisingly natural to be there. We planted on a warm day. The sun was out and there was a little breeze. The grass was beautiful and green. The people made us feel good. I liked the way the staff person who helped me was very gentle with the worms we found. I think about the garden as being gentle: gentle with nature, gentle to your body, and gentle with each other. Read More >

Teach a man to fish…

This week, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced plans to drastically change the nation’s food aid policy.  As Reuters reported, he said the U.S. will focus more resources on helping developing countries increase their agricultural capacity, as opposed to relying on emergency food aid grown on U.S. soil.

 “‘It is a more comprehensive, holistic view of food security that focuses on the notion that we want to make food more available, we want to make it accessible and we want to make sure that it is properly used,”  Vilsack said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.  “‘If we can help countries become more productive themselves then they will be in a better position to feed their own people,’ he said.”

According to the Reuters article:

The United States is the world’s largest donor of emergency food aid — mainly crops grown by American farmers — but spends 20 times as much on food aid to Africa as it spends on programs that could boost African food production, according to research by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. U.S. annual spending on African farming projects topped $400 million in the 1980s, but by 2006 had dwindled to just $60 million, the council has said.

Vilsack said the United States wants to invest in roads and other infrastructure projects in foreign countries to ensure that food is accessible to everyone who needs it.  Developing nations may also be able to produce more food for trade, helping to improve the global economy, he said.

President Barack Obama has said his administration will ask Congress to double funding for agricultural development aid to $1 billion by 2010.

Specific details on how food aid funding might change are not available at this time, however this policy shift seems to fall in line with a pilot program authorized under the 2008 farm bill.   The Local and Regional Procurement Project, is a USDA-led effort to increase local responses to food emergencies in developing countries, and complement food aid programs.

Show Me the Movement!

Aaron French’s commentary yesterday on the Civil Eat’s blog raises this issue of how prepared the sustainable food movement is to take its seat at the table in Washington. An important question given the receptivity the current administration has shown of late. It seems some more organizing is necessary. Case-in-point: a statement from Obama, as quoted by Michael Pollan at the Georgia Organics conference (where I was on Saturday), in reference to taking action on sustainable food:

“Show me the movement. Make me do it.”

While Obama’s comments are encouraging, they point to the need for stronger organization within the movement. Read More >

Vilsack Visits the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Meeting

I was privileged to spend the past few days at the Inaugural Meeting of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), a well-organized group of stakeholders from around the country ranging from farmers to policy wonks (who are sometimes one in the same) working in coalition on important issues. In addition to learning an incredible amount from this crew, I was thrilled to meet dozens of NSAC members eager to see public health take a larger, more active role in drawing the links between sustainable agriculture and health. I was also encouraged that Secretary Vilsack took the time visit to the NSAC Meeting. Read More >

White House Garden? Why Not?

Graphic from www.eattheview.org/

The Washington Post reports that efforts by Eat the View  and TheWhoFarm to get food grown again on the White House lawn have made it into the top 30 ideas submitted to the change.org contest. The idea is one of over 7000 proposals submitted.

Ideas for Change in America is a nationwide competition to identify the best ideas for change in America. The top 10 ideas will be presented to the Obama administration just before inauguration day and form the basis of a nationwide advocacy campaign to turn each idea into actual policy. Read More >

Affordable Health Care for Farmers

Here’s an issue we don’t pay enough attention to: providing affordable health care for farmers. Steph Larsen, Rural Policy Organizer for the Center for Rural Affairs, discusses this in yesterday’s edition the The Ethicurean blog. “When we talk about local food, it means more than just proximity to a farm,” she writes. “We associate supporting ‘local food’ with supporting specific values – such as family ownership, local control, small scale, environmental stewardship, community, and ecological diversity. These values are what motivate people to buy their food directly from the farmer who grows it.” As Larsen notes, supporting these values is a tough go for many farmers who, already on a tight budget, must fork out a small fortune to cover health insurance premiums. It’s a thought-provoking look at how health insurance reform–a key agenda of the incoming Obama administration–impacts sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable Agriculture Leaders Advise Transition Team

Today leaders in the sustainable agriculture community, organized by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, briefed members of the Obama transition team on priorities.  It was great to have the transition team’s ear, and to hear so many positive action ideas for the administration’s initial work.  CLF director, Dr. Bob Lawrence spoke of the epidemic of antibiotic resistance, and emphasized the need for the FDA to strengthen antibiotic licensing and permitting requirements in animal agriculture.  He also urged the USDA to take an in-depth look at the food safety impacts of antibiotic use in animal agriculture.  These recommendations and others are outlined in more detail as part of the Pew Commission report.

Most of the recommendations discussed did not address public health per se, although many had significant implications for public health.  We in the public health community are organizing to provide further input on issues relevant to the connections between food systems and public health.

Here are some other public health-related recommendations discussed during the call.
Read More >