Category: Food

Food Policy Follies

American food policy has long been rife with head-scratching illogic. We spend billions every year on farm subsidies, many of which help wealthy commercial operations to plant more crops than we need. The glut depresses world crop prices, harming farmers in developing countries. Meanwhile, millions of Americans live tenuously close to hunger, which is barely kept at bay by a food stamp program that gives most beneficiaries just a little more than $4 a day.

So it’s almost too absurd to believe that House Republicans are asking for a farm bill that would make all of these problems worse. For the putative purpose of balancing the country’s books, the measures that the House Republican caucus is pushing for in negotiations with the Senate, as Congress attempts to pass a long-stalled extension of the farm bill, would cut back the meager aid to our country’s most vulnerable and use the proceeds to continue fattening up a small number of wealthy American farmers.

A great op-ed by Joe Stiglitz in last Saturday’s New York Times. The whole thing is worth reading, as Stiglitz manages to distill the essence of the political economy of US agricultural and food policy in less than 1,500 words. And in that op-ed, I recognize the Joe Stiglitz that become one of my intellectual heroes when I started studying development microeconomics and realized that he had written seminal contributions on many topics of importance to development.

Bette Midler, the Jenny McCarthy of Food Policy?

BetteMidlerActress Jenny McCarthy is well-known for opposing vaccines, because they “cause autism.” Never mind the fact that there is an overwhelming body of research that shows that vaccines do not cause autism, Jenny McCarthy just knows. Because Jenny McCarthy is a celebrity, she commands much more attention than her knowledge of medicine would normally command.

Likewise with Bette Midler, who has taken to pontificating about genetically modified organisms in the tweet above (and probably elsewhere; I didn’t want to look…)

Really, is it be too much to ask from celebrities that they stick to what they know?

(ht: David Rieff, via Twitter.)

Standing Up for GMOs


Rice is the major dietary staple for almost half of humanity, but white rice grains lack vitamin A. Research scientists Ingo Potrykus and Peter Beyer and their teams developed a rice variety whose grains accumulate β-carotene. It took them, in collaboration with IRRI, 25 years to develop and test varieties that express sufficient quantities of the precursor that a few ounces of cooked rice can provide enough β-carotene to eliminate the morbidity and mortality of vitamin A deficiency. It took time, as well, to obtain the right to distribute Golden Rice seeds, which contain patented molecular constructs, free of charge to resource-poor farmers. Continue reading

“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” Takes on Food Aid

Last Tuesday, my Cornell colleague, coauthor, and former advisor Chris Barrett was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart discussing food aid. The video segment in which he appeared managed to make a very serious point — the effectiveness of the Food for Peace program is greatly undermined by the shipping lobby — while remaining highly satirical, and you can watch it here:

According to an interview Chris gave to the Cornell Daily Sun, the taping of his part of the segment took about four hours.

For those of you who are not familiar with his work, Chris has worked on just about every aspect of food security, and I’d be hard pressed to pinpoint what he is most famous for. The above video, however, is about his work on food aid, the culmination of which has been his 2005 book with Dan Maxwell, Food Aid After Fifty Years.

For a more popular treatment of the weaknesses of US food aid because of the political economy landscape, I suggest reading Kilman and Thurow’s Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.

Jennifer Aniston and I, Together at Last…

… in a Bloomberg article on quinoa:

Bolivian farmer Rafael Garcia is living larger thanks to one of Jennifer Aniston’s favorite salad ingredients.

“We sleep in good beds. We eat good food,” said Garcia, who heads an alliance of 37 producers of a crop called quinoa in the western Oruro region. “We now have bikes and motorcycles while we used to go everywhere by foot.”

Thousands of miles from celebrities and chefs who tout the health benefits of quinoa — a seed packed with protein and fiber — sales are lifting the fortunes of Andean farmers who’ve grown it for centuries mostly for subsistence. Governments of Peru and Bolivia, which still dominate the $123 million export market, are hoping the trend can last as prices that have doubled to about $3,000 a metric ton since 2007 attract better capitalized competitors.

I am quoted further in the article, when discussing how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has declared 2013 to be the International Year of Quinoa:

Those attributes will help distinguish Bolivian quinoa from the competition, said Paola Mejia, the manager of the Bolivian Chamber of Royal Quinoa and Organic Products Exporters, which is seeking international certification for the seed grown by the country’s 12,000 farmers.

“There are different sorts of quinoa and the world is going to ask for different quality types,” she said in a phone interview.

It’s not clear the world will keep asking, according to Bellemare. “To say, ‘Let’s make this the next big thing,’ maybe Madison Avenue would be able to do that. I honestly doubt the FAO has the marketing firepower,” he said.