Can Ending Corn Subsidies Help Fight Poverty?

For many Americans, the holiday season—basically anytime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day—is filled with an abundance of sweets and elaborate meals. Overindulging a bit during the holidays often is seen simply as a natural part of the season. However, for others, mealtime is a bit more complicated. A few recent articles highlight this fact.

The first, from CNS, states that hunger remains an issue for many American families.


"In the House's agricultural appropriations bill for 2012, it voted to take away nutrition assistance from 600,000 young children and their mothers who now participate in the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program and to eliminate food aid rations for 14 million of the most desperate people in the world," said the Rev. David Beckmann.

The Lutheran minister, who is president of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger lobby, made the comments in a preface to the organization's 22nd annual hunger report, titled this year "Rebalancing Act: Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies.

"??The report is peppered with indictments of current U.S. food policy. "Current policies favor production of calories, not nutrients," it said. "Today, the United States does not even produce enough fruits and vegetables for Americans to meet the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals."

Elsewhere, the report noted: "Agricultural research has been starved for public support. Shrinking food supplies, and the use of food crops to make biofuels, such as corn to make ethanol, are driving up the cost of food well beyond what people in poverty can afford." One woman reported that on days when money is scarce, she'll get by on a two-liter bottle of soda to feel full so that her children can eat real meals.

In a country in which a two-liter bottle of soda is considered a meal, it’s not surprising that many of the poorest Americans, who often have limited access to healthy foods, struggle disproportionately with obesity.

According to a Gallup survey last year: “Americans earning between $6,000 and $35,999 are the most likely to be fat, with an obesity rate of 31.7 percent in the first quarter of 2010.”

And, as The New York Times points out, people who are overweight may suffer discrimination in the workplace. And for those who have a job, being overweight often limits earning potential, especially for women.

As one author notes: “Even small weight gains for women have been tied to measurable wage losses, particularly in elite settings. Men can have much higher B.M.I.'s before any differences turn up.”

This cycle of poverty, when linked with obesity and wage disparity, is distressing, particularly if one considers the effect it can have on single mothers who may be the sole wage earners in a family. The decision by Congress to leave 600,000 children and mothers without nutrition assistance surely won’t help.

The corn subsidies to which Rev. Beckman refers must also be reconsidered. As Michael Pollan wrote in the New York Times:

The problem in corn’s case is that we’re sacrificing the health of both our bodies and the environment by growing and eating so much of it. Though we’re only beginning to understand what our cornified food system is doing to our health, there’s cause for concern. It’s probably no coincidence that the wholesale switch to corn sweeteners in the 1980′s marks the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in this country. Sweetness became so cheap that soft drink makers, rather than lower their prices, super-sized their serving portions and marketing budgets. Thousands of new sweetened snack foods hit the market, and the amount of fructose in our diets soared.

More funding should be devoted to subsidizing local, sustainable farms offering a diverse array of crops, especially in urban areas, which often lack access to such fresh, local produce.

Each of these issues—obesity, hunger, poverty and farm subsidies—offer distinct challenges. And it's foolish to think that solving at least the first three does not involve some degree of personal responsibility. Families must choose to spend what money they have wisely and to buy healthy foods and to get proper nutrition and exercise. But ignoring the ways in which these issues are interconnected is equally foolish. In a way, it's heartening: fighting against any one of these injustices can help to fight against the others.

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Beth Cioffoletti
6 years 10 months ago
I agree, Kerry - it's heartening to see the issues of food subsidies and personal health related.  When we are so personally affected (as in our health) we will pay attention to what government and corporations do in the name of "feeding" us!

Yesterday at a local parish church I saw a notice about a parish garden being started in the spring, the parishioners will plant, tend and then sell the local, organic produce.  I love seeing the connection with Church community being made.  This is all very hopeful and to my way of seeing, what "real" religion is all about.
6 years 10 months ago
That's real great news about a local parish church to start a parish gardening in the spring. I hope and pray it catches on nationally, even globally.  We need to go back to the basics.  My girlfriend always do container gardening on her small deck every spring.  She plants eggplants, bell peppers, tomatoes (two kinds)..cherry and the big ones, scallions and more.  And you should see her harvests!!!


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