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The USDA announced last week that it was unveiling obesity prevention programs at various colleges.  The allotted funds amount to $5 million.  While this is good in and of itself, the galling part of this equation is precisely the involvement of the USDA.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said that “these grants fund critical research that will help USDA and our partners implement effective strategies to support America’s next generation so they can have a healthy childhood and develop healthy habits for life.”  An additional $5.5 million will be allotted to implement Michelle Obama’s lunch nutrition standards, which Vilsack says will “help make sure that the healthy food on kids’ plates ends up in their stomachs.”

The contradiction here is that the Monsanto controlled USDA has gone out of its way to support and encourage Big Ag to promote and sell whatever processed food products will make the most profit, regardless of the effect on the health of the American population.  Many of these products certainly add to the obesity problem we face.  ConAgra Foods, one of the largest packaged food companies in the U.S. claim, and I have no reason to doubt them, that the food they make can be found in 99% of American homes.  All of the foods ConAgra makes are processed in some way.

This is what causes obesity:  high sodium and fat in processed foods, lack of exercise, over-consumption of meat, and fast food.  Add to that the wage stagnation that has become steady since Ronald Reagan declared war on the middle class, and you have people forced to buy that $1 box of macaroni and cheese rather than the more costly fruits and vegetables.  Food prices, as has been noted, have risen astronomically in the last decade and most certainly will continue to rise as long as the U.S. government places no regulation on the trading of food as a commodity and continues to deplete available farmland in order to convert it to the growing of biofuels.

Food & Water Watch has documented, albeit in 2010, that Big Ag had spent more than a half billion dollars between 1999 and 2009 lobbying the various agencies and branches of the U.S. government.  They also like to keep their hands busy with our representatives.  Remember when Ronald Reagan declared that ketchup was a vegetable?  In 2012, Congress declared pizza to be a vegetable under pressure from Big Ag.  Congress then blocked attempts by the USDA to replace pizza with more vegetables.

What is required from our government is not self-congratulatory and underfunded prevention programs, but tough regulation against those products that tend to make people fat (high fructose corn syrup comes to mind) and an aggressive policy of food supplementation.  Matt Bruenig, a political writer and activist, has suggested just such a policy, which is entirely reasonable and sane – food stamps for everyone regardless of income.  Such a policy would do far more to encourage healthy eating habits and would also improve the economy, as it is well documented that for every dollar given out in food stamps, the economy gets $1.80.  And while we’re at it, raise the minimum wage to $20 an hour.  That oughta do it.

Recipe of the Week

This recipe is quite easy, but certainly falls well within the definition of slow food.  And lamb is expensive, but for about $15, this recipe yields at least 6 servings.

Lamb Pilaf

3 tbls olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tbls tomato paste

1 pound lean lamb, cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups basmati rice, rinsed

4 cloves garlic, minced

chopped parsley if  you need it to look pretty

salt and pepper

1 tsp fresh cumin seed, ground

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook slowly until golden brown.  This takes about 45 minutes at low heat.  Add the meat, cinnamon, tomato paste and salt and pepper.  Cover the pan and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir in.  Add water to cover and gently simmer for 1.5 hours.  Add more water should it become too dry.  Taste for salt and pepper.  Since you’re adding rice, the base sauce can be more salty than normal.  Add another 2 cups water, bring to a boil and add the rice.  Lower the heat to the lowest setting, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let sit for another 20 minutes.  This is fine served with pita and a salad, but eliminating the pita is better for your waist line.

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