It has been beautiful in Madrid this week. Spring is here, the sun is shining, and the breeze coming through the window smells very sweet indeed. The weekend we spent with the McMillers was one of the best ever. We did most of our favorite things with them (many of these for the last time): a walk in the Retiro, a pastry at Mallorca, a beer at a terraza, lunch at Cafe Oliver, lomo and pimiento sandwiches at our apartment for lunch, the Rastro on Sunday and churros con chocolate at the Chocolatería San Ginés right afterward. We even had a chance to watch the runners enjoying the 30th Madrid marathon just before digging into our healthy portions of fried dough and molten milk chocolate.
Now we are getting geared up for counter-counter-culture shock. Reading about the shootings at Virginia Tech has brought our attention to some of the more unsavory realities of life in the US. While the Senate discusses how to make universities safer, it strikes us: Why isn't anyone talking about gun control? There are crazy people all over the world--in Europe, Asia, and especially Canada (just kidding, Canada)--yet you rarely hear about shooting rampages like those that happen in the US. If a Spaniard loses it, he is more than likely to kill only one or two people and then himself. A kid in Virginia kills 32 people and no politician (on either side of the aisle) appears to have the guts to suggest that perhaps we should control access to automatic handguns and assault rifles. There will always be crazy people out there, but only our country makes it so easy for them to arm themselves to the teeth. (No anonymous comments, please!)
But then there is Michael Pollan, our new favorite food author. His articles in the New York Times have given us hope that, in spite of our national obsession with defending our right to blow each other away, perhaps someday we might look forward to having easy access to good food in the United States. Did anyone catch his piece in Sunday's magazine? Here are some excerpts from “You Are What You Grow,” an article on how the American farm bill is giving Americans more girth, and what we can do about it:
“A public-health researcher from Mars might legitimately wonder why a nation faced with what its surgeon general has called ‘an epidemic’ of obesity would at the same time be in the business of subsidizing the production of high-fructose corn syrup.” HFC is one of the main culprits in making Americans as unhealthy as they are. And it's found in most processed food-like substances.
Pollan outlines how the farm bill has bad effects on children, especially those who depend on school lunches for their main meal of the day:
“The farm bill essentially treats our children as a human Disposall for all the unhealthful calories that the farm bill has encouraged American farmers to overproduce.”
And the farm bill’s effects on immigration are clear:
“To speak of the farm bill’s influence on the American food system does not begin to describe its full impact — on the environment, on global poverty, even on immigration. By making it possible for American farmers to sell their crops abroad for considerably less than it costs to grow them, the farm bill helps determine the price of corn in Mexico and the price of cotton in Nigeria and therefore whether farmers in those places will survive or be forced off the land, to migrate to the cities — or to the United States. The flow of immigrants north from Mexico since Nafta is inextricably linked to the flow of American corn in the opposite direction, a flood of subsidized grain that the Mexican government estimates has thrown two million Mexican farmers and other agricultural workers off the land since the mid-90s. (More recently, the ethanol boom has led to a spike in corn prices that has left that country reeling from soaring tortilla prices; linking its corn economy to ours has been an unalloyed disaster for Mexico’s eaters as well as its farmers.) You can’t fully comprehend the pressures driving immigration without comprehending what U.S. agricultural policy is doing to rural agriculture in Mexico.”
Not to mention effects on the American landscape and environment. So what can we do to reform this terrible-once-every-five-years piece of legislation? Start voting, not just with your mouth (you know, buying organic, avoiding Doritos), but also by actually voting. The farm bill isn't just about farmers, it's about food. And eaters should take food seriously. We are all eaters. Isn't it time?