Archive for Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Opinion: Don’t blame farmers

October 19, 2010

File this under the category of the lamest excuse to come along in my lifetime.

What I'm talking about is the recent attempt by some in the media and entertainment business to blame America's farm and ranch families for the growing epidemic of obesity. Seems they would like us to believe that farmers and ranchers are producing food that is too affordable and too available.

Stop right there. Many Americans can remember a time when their families or neighbors had trouble keeping food on the table. The concept of food that was too cheap was as foreign as paying nearly a buck and a half for a soda today.

But the times they are a changing. Americans' incomes have increased, and farmers are producing food more efficiently than ever before. That means food costs take a smaller bite out of Americans' pocketbooks than they used to.

Rather than thank farmers for producing abundant, affordable food so that most of us will never experience the pangs of true hunger, making farmers the scapegoat for obesity appears to be a popular trend. Some also say federal programs that help stabilize the farm economy encourage farmers to overproduce. Blaming agriculture only diverts attention away from the factors that do contribute to obesity.

Some media types may think they are performing a public service, but singling out farmers is a serious disservice to one of our nation's most important industries. It also is a slap in the face to the thousands of families that depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and to the millions of Americans whose high standards of living are built on our varied and efficient food and fiber system.

Without our nation's farmers and the federal programs that help them through economic and weather disasters, Americans might have to depend on other countries for food just like we already do for oil. That would be a kick in the backside not only to our food security, but our national security as well.

Recent evidence of a global obesity trend indicates that the problem involves more than access to and an abundance of snack foods, desserts and soft drinks. People are reportedly getting heavier even in developing nations where citizens do not have all of the foods and snacks found on our supermarket shelves. That tends to point toward rising incomes and less physical labor around the world as the cause, not just U.S. food industry practices.

Since when do farmers grow junk food?

When did farmers begin to force consumers to eat a specific diet, healthy or otherwise?

Farmers and ranchers are not responsible for the U.S. consumer's dietary and exercise habits. These are all individual choices and matters of personal responsibility.

One must also consider the constantly on-the-go lifestyles Americans now lead. This also helps the fast food and vending machine industries turn a profit. And what about our technology boom that encourages kids to sit in front of the television or play video games and working their jaws (snacking) instead of exercising outdoors?

Recent statistics show Americans spend an average of more than 1,700 hours a year in their car, at their computer or in front of their television screens.

Whatever happened to personal responsibility in this country? What about the amount of food we eat at each meal? How about the many times we eat between meals? How about the individual holding the knife, fork or spoon? There used to be a time I can remember when people didn't eat between meals, or is that a long and distant dream?

It is time we start looking for real solutions to fix America's growing weight problem, instead of blaming the very hands that nutritiously and safely feed America. It's important to note that while farmers produce a wide range of healthy food options, the ultimate consumer choices — moderation and exercise — are made far beyond the farm or ranch.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture in rural Kansas.



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