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Fruits, Vegetables and Government Subsidies
More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese; these statistics are scary but they are also, unfortunately, true. People today are taking in more than enough calories to satisfy their daily requirements, but they're still not getting enough quality nutrients and physical exercise.
The United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) says half your diet should be fruits and vegetables, but it doesn't subsidize the farmers who grow them. Instead, half of all federal agriculture subsidies go to grain farmers, whose crops feed animals that yield meat, milk and eggs or become ingredients in processed foods, which are typically unhealthy and aggressively marketed. For example, toaster pastries have long been touted to consumers as breakfast food, but these "treats" contain partially hydrogenated soybean oil to give them a flaky texture and significant amounts of high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten their fruit filling. That translates to a lot of calories and artery-clogging fat as well as little or no fiber.
The USDA's food pyramid strives to improve the nation's health, recommending that people eat fewer calories and more fruit, vegetables, low fat milk and whole grains. It also tells people to avoid foods made with partially hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners.
Federal farm programs, on the other hand, strive to maintain the financial health of American agriculture. As a result these subsidized foods are becoming progressively cheaper, while the price of fruit and vegetables keeps rising.
"Fresh fruits and vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet," said Gerry Morton, CEO of EnergyFirst. "The problem is the cost of these foods can be prohibitive to many lower income families, who find that it's much cheaper to buy processed foods although they may be nutritionally empty.
Here is what the food pyramid says you should eat each day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet:
Government farm subsidies are currently only given for the following crops:
While fruit and vegetable growers have access to federal crop insurance, and the USDA spends more than $400 million a year buying produce and other commodities for the school lunch program, that still doesn't add up to the billions spent on grains, cotton, soybeans, wheat, tobacco, dairy, rice and peanuts. In order to maintain a consistent message and encourage Americans of all income levels to purchase the nutrient-rich foods that will help achieve a healthy lifestyle, the government should consider restructuring its farm subsidy policies to support the eating habits outlined by the USDA food pyramid. To address this issue, Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has begun a series of "listening sessions" across the country to gather input for the next farm bill, which dictates how subsidies are distributed. Hopefully this will be a step in the right direction, ensuring that fresh fruits and vegetables will be made more affordable to all Americans.