Did Poor People Break the Food System? A 1% Story

There has been a lot of talk about the 1% lately.

Generally, we mean the 1% of folks in the United States who control far too much of our nation’s wealth.  We mean the 1% making millions of dollars each year.  We mean the 1% whose income increased by 275% from 1979-2007, while the poorest 20% saw income rise by only 18% in the same period.

Of course, rich people aren’t just living lavishly, gobbling up our Earth’s resources with reckless abandon.  They are controlling our political process.  After all, poor folks can’t afford lobbyists, TV ads and focus groups.  At least 46 million of them can’t even afford food.

The implications on our food system are striking.

When you think of the most powerful lobbyists in the country, you probably don’t think of the frozen food lobby.  But even they got Congress to protect corporate profit by keeping pizza as a vegetable serving in schools!  Just think of what non-sense (but far less public) decisions are getting made at the behest of the agribusiness lobby.

We the people are in the streets protesting – as I draft this very blog post, Occupy Big Food is protesting outside of the Monsanto CFO’s presentation to NYC bankers – because we know the 1% is to blame for the dysfunctional food system that leaves us with food that is killing us or no food at all.

Meanwhile our government, in its own attempts to right wrongs in the food system, has its sights set on the 1% too.  Yesterday, the USDA announced new “aggressive tactics” related to SNAP.

Will they go after the 1% companies who cost the government millions by failing to pay workers enough money to buy food for their families??  Could it be?

Nope.  They’ve got a different 1% in mind.  They’re going to aggressively go after the people who are behind SNAP fraud, which affects 1% of SNAP dollars.  They will use “state-of-the-art technologies” to “develop the next generation of its fraud detection system.”  In FY2011, they already “conducted nearly 5,000 undercover investigations,” so you know they are serious.

What if the government conducted 5,000 undercover investigations into the shady financial dealings of the rich 1% — you know, the kinds that helped destroy our entire economy — rather than the people who are operating in the crippling underworld of food stamps?

Unfortunately, this misguided targeting isn’t new.  Not even in the past week.

Michelle Obama once told food companies, “We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.”  We kind of liked that speech.

But this week, she came around to the same message as the National Restaurant Association. (You know, your lobbying friends who support fast food and oppose the minimum wage.)  Who needs to step up to end child obesity, in her latest version of the story?  Kids.  It isn’t a crisis of underfunded schools, nutrition programs or corporate marketing.  It’s a “crisis of inactivity” now.

How many new ways can we find to make workers and poor people bear the brunt of (and blame for!) the dysfunctional food system?  What will next week bring?

For those of us who care about making the 1% take appropriate responsibility for the state of our economy and food system, we might need some “aggressive tactics” of our own.

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