It's time to change our agricultural policies. Here's why.

Every time I go to the grocery store now I notice three things:

1) all the healthiest foods are ridiculously overpriced, expensive, and lacking in variety and quantity

2) all the unhealthiest foods are super cheap and have entire aisles to themselves

3) most people are concentrated in the unhealthy food aisles and very few people spend any time in the healthy food aisles.

Why are we making the healthiest foods so expensive that only the rich can afford them while forcing everyone else to buy junk food that destroys their health over time?  Two words: gov’t subsidies.  For years now our fed gov’t has been paying farmers and large agricultural companies to only plant staple crops like corn, soy, and wheat.  These are crops that food companies use the most as their main ingredients in all the processed foods they make that are causing the epidemic of diseases we have as a nation.

We’re dealing with two sets of incentives here.  First, by heavily subsidizing these crops alone, the fed gov’t is incentivizing all farmers, big and small, to plant these crops and not to plant other, healthier crops by effectively pricing those crops out of the market.   Farmers who try to make profits by planting those healthy and diverse crops alone simply can’t compete with the staple crop farmers who are getting big subsidies. This leads to a complete domination and monopoly (if you wanna know why so many americans are sick and why are healthcare system is so overburdened, in debt, and dysfunctional, look no further than these gov’t policies and the habits they’ve created among the vast majority of americans, especially poorer americans) of grocery stores by the products that contain all the foods from these staple crops in their ingredients.

This monopoly of our grocery store aisles by cheap junk food thus incentivizes all of us to buy the junk food in order to save money, and because it’s all loaded with sugar, salt, and many artificial substances that make it tastier than natural, healthy food (until you get used to real food, then the junk food isn’t tastier anymore). So through this set of incentives, we’ve created a system where the average american has no choice but to continually buy food that is bad for them and is guaranteed to negatively affect their health over time, which is well documented.

Yet we wonder why all our expensive drugs, tests, and procedures aren’t making people healthier.  In fact as the use of prescription drugs by americans has drastically increased over the past few decades, disease rates for all major diseases and many less common ones have skyrocketed as well.  Not what you’d expect if the drugs were actually effectively treating the diseases they’re prescribed for.

We’re doing nothing about the root cause of the problem, and until we address this cause we’re going to continue to flush money down the toilet and enrich the big pharma companies in the process.  They’re loving this system as it is because they’ll continue to make billions as long as people are sick and don’t change their diet and lifestyles because they’ll continue to go to doctors who don’t know anything about nutrition  (it’s interesting to see why-  hint- big pharma’s involved) and will prescribe them drugs that don’t work and almost always make them worse.

If we got the gov’t out of the farming business completely and allowed it to be an open market just like we do with other industries to varying degrees, we’d see prices for healthy foods come down as their supply would go up now that more smaller farmers would be planting more of them.  This would create an even greater demand for them, which would bring down their price even further.  We would also have a greater variety of healthy foods and the junk food aisles would no longer dominate most grocery stores since those processed foods wouldn’t be drastically cheaper than the healthy foods.

Why conservative politicians aren’t creating laws to bring this change about, or at the very least talking about them, I have no idea. Not only is it supporting the free market and ltd gov’t, it’s helping poor people.  Actually I do have some idea, which is that they’re in bed with big business and the FDA just like democrats are.

The status quo right now is helping the rich stay healthy and is forcing the poor to stay sick because of the huge differences between healthy and junk food both in terms of variety and price.  How can we as conservatives defend a system that not only favors the rich over the poor, but favors big agricultural and pharmaceutical companies over small, family owned farms?(On a side note, one example of this is a bill that recently came out that basically makes it harder for small farmers to operate their farms and compete with corporate farms because of gov’t regulations and inspections, I urge everyone reading this to submit this form . ..http://bit.ly/sign-the-tester-hagan-letter).

Philosophically we can’t, and politically we need to stop, because doing so is antithetical to everything we stand for.  Instead of focusing on reforming the health insurance market and trying to make drugs cheaper, I suggest we start focusing on the root cause of the problem, which neither party has dared talk about or touch all these years because they’re both in bed with big pharma and big agricultural companies.  Whoever dares to try and change this status quo will make a lot of enemies, but they’ll make a lot of friends too, because americans are waking up to the perverse way both the healthcare and agricultural systems are being run in this country.

It’s time for politicians in Washington to wake up too.  By the time the problem reaches the level of insurance companies it’s already far too late, the person is already sick and in need of curing.  Instead of waiting for all the patients to get sick and then trying to cure the disease, how about we put in place policies that prevent the disease in the first place?  Hippocrates said “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.  He understood what most doctors don’t understand now, that if you don’t get the diet and nutrition right, nothing else matters because our bodies literally become what we put in them.

If we eat tons of trans fats, our brains and cell membranes will be filled with trans fats which leads to all kinds of diseases.  If we eat a lot of omega 3s, likewise, our brains and cells membranes will be filled with those and work at an optimal level instead of a diseased level.  It’s time our nation’s policies reflect this fundamental truth by promoting and incentivizing the availability and affordability of healthy foods over junk foods ( I have a separate idea for reforming food stamps that relates to this that I’ll be writing about eventually), creating a direct line from farm, to grocery store or farmer’s market, to dinner tables in the homes of most americans. The status quo of our current policies reflects the desires of greedy companies in bed with corrupt politicians and heads of gov’t agencies like the FDA and USDA.

Let’s force those politicians and bureaucrats to defend these failed policies, while exposing the dirty secrets, corruption, and conflicts of interest involved in these revolving doors between big business, gov’t agencies, and members of congress which has created the two-headed monster that is our federal government welfare system for big businesses.

So what are the solutions to this problem?  For a start we need to completely get rid of the gov’t agricultural subsidies.  Let the market and consumer demand decide which crops will be more affordable to plant and which won’t be.  Beyond that, we need to completely change the medical school curriculum in this country and update it to reflect the health problems americans face today, which go far beyond the basic diseases of affluence like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.  It should include more classes on nutrition, autoimmune diseases, digestive diseases (all disease starts in the gut- it’s where most of our immune system is and the second point of contact besides the skin where everything from the outside world interacts with and is processed by our bodies), nutrition for pregnant women, and the effect of environmental toxins on humans both during early development and throughout the life cycle.

Medical schools should also have more classes on complimentary and alternative medicine, after all, more hospitals including pioneering ones like the Cleveland Clinic, are opening alternative/holistic medicine centers on their campuses.  We need doctors to focus more on preventative medicine and teaching patients how to change their diet and lifestyles to promote optimal health before their current bad diet starts to damage their body and cause disease.

Another thing we can change is our food stamp policy, which I alluded to above.  Right now it encourages poor people to only buy junk food because it can only be used at the most common grocery and convenience stores that have almost nothing but junk food and overpriced healthy food.  I want to propose the following change which is only the core of my idea, there’s a lot more to it than this, which I’ll be writing more about in the future:

A person with food stamps could go to a farmer’s market or health food store and buy whatever they want, and even though those places don’t accept food stamps, the person could get a monthly voucher where that money could be redeemed with the voucher to replace the food stamp card.  That way they could eat healthy on food stamps, plus we’re helping local farms, who need all the help they can get against the competition of big agriculture companies.  It’d be like the voucher systems we have in some parts of the country for school choice, only this would be a voucher system for eating healthy.

Plus, every time the food stamp recipient would go to a healthy store or market they’d be rewarded with another voucher to be used only at other healthy places, so that would incentivize the person on food stamps to continue to eat healthy.  I believe this would go a long way towards solving the health problems in this country as well as the healthcare costs that are out of control.  We’ve been paying for all the health problems of poor people who’ve been loading up on junk food on food stamps because they’re incentivized to do so and have no alternative.  This would be an alternative.  It goes without saying that we should be trying to reduce the number of people on food stamps, so this proposal is just targeted towards the people who will be on food stamps temporarily who truly need them.

The second big part of my idea would be to integrate and couple the food stamp program with our healthcare system so we’re making sure we take care of the poor people on food stamps who are often uninformed about nutrition and how to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.  We would give everyone in the country, including everyone on food stamps, a health savings account (HSA) with a certain amount of money in it per year (read Ben Carson’s idea on this for more details, it’s impressive).

Any left over money on one’s food stamp card at the end of the month would no longer roll over to the next month (which it does currently), but instead would automatically be sent to their HSA, which they could then use for doctor visits, treatments, etc.  This would save us significant amounts of money because we know there are many people now on food stamps who are abusing the program or simply don’t need the full amount they’re given, as evidenced by the people I’ve seen and heard about selling their food stamps for cash cause they didn’t need all that money for food.  This change would put that money to good use.  But beyond that it would help the poor people who really need that money to get the medical care they need and to prevent them from developing health problems in the future.  This is just the basic idea I came up with, there are more details that would go into it, which again, I will be writing about separately.

Finally, I support all the conservative and libertarian ideas for insurance reform such as:  tort reform, allowing insurance to be bought across state lines, separating insurance from employers so it can be portable, and more, but these aren’t what I’m focusing this entry on.  Many experts and bloggers have written extensively on this so I won’t do so here.

These ideas are by no means perfect or the only way we can solve these problems, but I believe if we made some of these changes we could start to get healthcare costs under control while simultaneously helping people live healthier, more productive lives.  More importantly, we’d be putting healthcare and food choices back into the hands of the american people and taking it out of the hands of big agricultural, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies who have monopolized the most important industries in america for far too long.  I see a vision of a new America where consumers have more choices and more power, and where money and influence is spread out among small farmers and businesses rather than concentrated at the top with a handful of big corporations influencing what we eat and how our health problems are treated.  That’s the kind of country I wanna live in, how about you?