EcoMeme: Healthy Food Gets a Budget Boost

vegetables at farmers market

“Why not give me a choice besides french fries or french fries?” Morgan Spurlock asked the American food industry and regulators in his 2004 fast food exposé Super Size Me. President Obama’s budget for fiscal year 2011 begins to answer that question.

Of particular interest to slow food activists and locavores is the administration’s plan to invest $400 million, through public-private grants into the development of super markets, farmers’ markets and other health food stores across the U.S.

The financing should help small businesses provide healthy alternatives to plastic wrapped snacks, burgers, fried chicken and shakes in communities lacking options. President Obama’s plan, made public on Feb. 1, 2010, included overall food-and-nutrition expenditures far beyond this, of course, which will have a lasting impact on our food and agricultural economy, land and health.

According to Bloomberg financial reports, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spending overall will rise 2.3 percent to $132.3 billion in fiscal 2011.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said the money would continue to pay for major nutrition assistance programs, with $1 billion split between the Women Infants and Children, and National School Lunch Program; $1 billion for efforts to reduce foodborne illnesses from USDA-inspected food products; and a whopping $75.3 billion towards the food stamps program SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Plan).

Even though food stamp spending is rising to meet the needs of record-levels of unemployed and under-employed people in the U.S., there’s a silver lining: food stamps are increasingly allowed at farmer’s markets, these days.

Farmers’ markets, which we frequent and frequently write about at EcoSalon, reduce the fuel consumption and other environmental costs of food transportation by selling produce within 100 miles of its origin and by featuring in-season items only, eschewing huge amounts of plastic and packaging, among many other environmental benefits.

Everyone, from lunch lady bloggers to twittering accountants, had something to say about the budget this week online. Decide for yourself if the plan spends too much or not enough on food, with these basic reads and resources.

Basic Reading:

“A record 37.9 million people, or about one of every eight Americans, received food stamps in October 2009, as the jobless rate reached a 26-year high, the USDA said on Jan. 12, 2010. ‘Thank gosh we have food stamps,’ Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said at a news briefing in Washington. ‘One, for the families who are struggling, and two, for the farmers who want to sell commodities to 300 million Americans.’ – Bloomberg news story by Alan Bjerga examining FY2011 budget in light of food programs

“Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) said. ‘Every day millions of Americans walk out their front doors and see nothing but fast food and convenience stores selling high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods. This lack of retail outlets that sell healthy food options results in higher rates of obesity, diabetes and other health-related issues. The success of the Pennsylvania initiative should be used as the model for a national plan to improve children’s health, create jobs and spur economic development nationwide.'” – A PolicyLink press release via The Medical News

“President Obama’s Budget became public recently and one of the many items in the massive $4.5 trillion expenditures is $1 billion per year for Child Nutrition split between the National School Lunch Program and the Women, Infants and Children Program. At first blush, given the economy and the call for a 3-year freeze on discretionary spending, this might seem like a win for America’s children; and groups like The School Nutrition Association, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have applauded the proposal. I believe we need to take a closer look at what this really means and perhaps rub the shine off of this offered apple.” – A Chef Ann blog post, by “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper, criticizing the president’s FY2011 budget

Further Resources:

Further plans for U.S. government spending on environmental initiatives, especially in solar energy, described at

Eat This, Not That, a Men’s Health guide to swapping convenient comestibles, for healthier, still-tasty green fare

A photo essay in Fast Company showing new, luxe restaurants started during the recession

A list of food-related budget items by the industry blog The Packer

This is the latest installment of EcoMeme, a column featuring environmental news, trends and tech highlights by Lora Kolodny.

Image: mckaysavage