Farm Bill Makes You Fat?

The Financial Times has an article on how the agricultural subsidies contained in the Farm Bill seemingly promote obesity by encouraging the production and consumption of starchy and sugary foods at the expense of more nutritious fruits and vegetables.

Agricultural subsidies have long been criticized for making “bad-for-you food cheaper than healthful fare,” and encouraging the consumption of corn-based sugars and soy-based fats derived from heavily-subsidized corn and soybean crops.

I think that the critics are right that successive farm bills have artificially reduced the price of highly-processed junk foods to below the price of many fruits and vegetables.

But I think some critics overstate their case. While many vegetables cost more than junk food, since junk food’s price is artificially depressed thanks to agricultural subsidies, some vegetables continue to be cheaper than junk food.

I recently bought ten pounds of potatoes on sale from my local Grand Mart for $1.29. That’s much cheaper, per calorie, than a Twinkie or Ding Dong. And a single potato contains many minerals and as much as 40 percent of your day’s supply of vitamin C.

So it’s not just the lower price of junk food caused by agricultural subsidies that’s contributing to obesity. It’s also laziness and ignorance — people are too lazy to shop around for reasonably-priced vegetables (vegetables’ price seems to vary more from store to store than does junk food, perhaps because vegetables are perishable and cannot be stored for long by the seller in hopes of reaping a higher price later, while junk food isn’t perishable), and too ignorant about what food is healthy (for example, many people wrongly think potatoes are junk food, when they aren’t).