In a couple of recent statements (interview on NPR and an op-ed in the NY Times), my guy Michael Pollan made the assertion that if the US doesn’t get a handle on the way we eat, any healthcare system overhaul is going to fail:

[T]he fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter…That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry. …Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.

Well, it looks as if the Feds have finally wised up a bit to MP’s wisdom:

  1. USDA has awarded $4.8 million for community food products, as part of the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative. This collaboration hopes to “connect people more closely with the farmers who supply their food and increase the production, marketing and consumption of fresh, nutritious food that is grown locally in a sustainable manner.”
  2. The US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) granted $650 Million to the Recovery Act Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative, which will “[create] ways for healthful lifestyle habits to be the natural first choice for Americans…The funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to increase physical activity, improve nutrition (emphasis mine), decrease obesity, and decrease smoking in U.S. communities.”  From the release: “Funded projects will emphasize high-impact, broad-reaching policy, environmental, and systems changes in schools (K-12) and communities. For example, communities will work to make high-fat snack foods and sugar-sweetened beverages less available in schools and other community sites and to use media to promote healthy choices.”

Well, it’s a good start.

In related news, last weekend saw the release of the new Matt Damon film “The Informant!”.  It’s the true story of a bumbling executive at Archer Daniels Midland (“Supermarket to the World”) who becomes a double-dealing FBI informant, providing recordings of secret meetings at which ADM and other global agrichemical producers colluded to fix worldwide prices of the animal feed additive lysine.  This American Life ran an encore of an episode they did in 2000 (called “The Fix Is In”), with the case’s major players.  The podcast is available right now on iTunes.

AGRICULTURE DEPUTY SECRETARY MERRIGAN AWARDS $4.8 MILLION FOR COMMUNITY FOOD PROJECTS AS PART OF ‘KNOW YOUR FARMER, KNOW YOUR FOOD’ INITIATIVE
Funds Will Help Low-Income Communities Fight Food Insecurity by Building Local Food Systems
WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2009 – Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced that $4.8 million will be awarded to local organizations in 14 states to build community food systems and fight hunger and food insecurity. This announcement comes as part of USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,’ initiative, a department-wide collaboration that will connect people more closely with the farmers who supply their food and increase the production, marketing and consumption of fresh, nutritious food that is grown locally in a sustainable manner.
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