It’s a rallying cry pushed by special-interest groups and farm policy critics: dismantle the U.S. food system! But a fundamental misunderstanding of how our food is grown leads to bad ideas and even worse policy. Ray Starling, a former White House and U.S. Department of Agriculture official, explores this debate in his new book “Farmers versus Foodies.”
It’s a privilege to have this conversation at all, Ray pointed out on the Groundwork podcast. In recent memory, most Americans have not had to worry about where their food comes from.
“It is the ag productivity of today that has made room for all these other debates,” Ray said. “We can’t forget that.”
Even during COVID-19’s unprecedented disruptions, the American food supply was largely able to adjust to shifting demand in just a matter of weeks. Farmers never stopped farming, keeping Americans fed.
Now, with the world’s most abundant and most affordable food supply at our fingertips, the foodies, as Ray calls them, are hungry to improve the food system. But not every idea is worth pursuing – and some attempts to dismantle production agriculture have dangerous consequences.
“We can do things differently, but there are going to be trade-offs,” Ray explained. Critics must be cognizant of those trade-offs and recognize that they’re essentially saying, “I’m ok with actually increasing food insecurity in some parts of the world, so that I get food grown the way I’m comfortable with it being grown.”
Of course, while modern agriculture is a marvel, there are ways for farmers and foodies to work together. Improving our food system will take innovation and an understanding of the intricate issues affecting agriculture.
For example, if foodies would like to see fewer pesticide applications, that might require working to increase access to a willing and reliable workforce who can manually control weeds or removing barriers to the deployment of genetically innovative crops.
As cultures shift, farmers and farm policy advocates must be proactive in educating foodies on the realities of production agriculture and outspoken on the importance of preserving our national food security. When it comes to farm policy, facts still come first.