Part 2, continuing the conversation with Anna Lappé, the question that arises, what is the proper role for government to play with our food system?
Lappé sees an important role for government to play. Without a strong government to represent the interests of the people, narrow private interests prevail, often to the detriment of society. One can look at the sharp rise of food safety issues over the past decade to see the corrosive effects of lax government oversight and enforcement, coupled with the increased centralization (and consolidation of ownership) of large-scale food production, and processing, to appreciate how relying too heavily upon voluntary industry self-regulation does not benefit the public interest. While large corporations are highly focused upon protecting their own vital interests, the public interest is more diffusely spread, its pressure not as acutely felt in Washington.
Re-authorized every five years, the single biggest engine to drive fundamental change to our food system is through the federal Farm Bill legislation. The next (2012) Farm Bill will have the potential, in part, to shift subsidies away from the current top 10% of commodity producers, (principally of corn, wheat, soy, cotton, and rice) toward sustainably produced foods that are beneficial to the environment, promotes public health to people of all means, encourages the humane treatment of livestock, and helps to create healthy, regional food economies.
In democratic societies, government is neither inherently good nor evil. In a lasting democracy— not out of fear, but of hope— an informed and engaged citizenry holds its leaders properly accountable.