Q & A with Journalist & Author of "Bet the Farm" Frederick Kaufman

Fred_Kaufman_Book_Jacket_Pic.JPGThe Food Day team had the pleasure of asking Frederick Kaufman some questions on contemporary food systems issues. Fred Kaufman is the author of "Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food," and a professor at CUNY's Graduate School of Journalism.

What would be a significant first step in reducing hunger in America?

A: Hunger in America isn’t about not having enough food; it’s about not being able to afford food. One proven remedy has been the availability of food stamps, which depends on the fate of the next Farm Bill. Many would like to cut programs that make food available to children in schools, and adults in need, a “reform” that would bring this country a step closer to food insecurity. In this country, not having the money to purchase food also translates into obesity, as cheap calories generally come with too much fat, sugar, and boatloads of artificial everything. In order to consume better calories at lower prices, Americans need to learn about nutrition and home food preparation. Education can help, along with support for purveyors of produce in urban food deserts. Above all, we need jobs for Americans. Food often accounts for 12-15 percent of a weekly paycheck, but first Americans need the paycheck. 


What can be done to support sustainable organic farms?

A: In order to support “sustainability”—whether organic or not—we first need to define the term, a feat that is yet to be done. As it turns out, there are quite literally hundreds of “sustainability certifications” out there vying for supremacy, and whoever will be the first to gain acceptance for their measure or metric will own the concept going forward. Scientists have stepped forward in an attempt to calculate lifecycle analyses of food, from farm to fork. The danger is the co-option of these efforts by companies such as Walmart that seek to deploy their “green” promises as marketing tools—which will subvert “sustainable” to mean: What keeps Big Ag in business.


What could be done to reform Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations?Bet_the_Farm_book_cover.jpg

A: First of all, eat less meat. But halting the spread of CAFOs goes beyond consumer choice. Meat has been financialized, the cow has become a dollar sign, and when living things are treated like commodities there will be all manner of miserable fallout. There is no simple solution given the long history of American agriculture and livestock production, not to mention the fast-growing, global, middle-class hunger for meat. Since there will be billions of meat eaters inhabiting this planet, the surest way to reform CAFOs will be through more stringent rules regarding humane treatment, more stringent regulations on antibiotics in feed, and an insistence on energy-positive waste management. After regulation comes education, which will enable everyone to understand precisely how that hamburger came to their plate. Somewhere in the misty future, the global diet must move away from meat. Everyone must pitch in to achieve this goal, from academics to media mavens to chefs to activists and farmers.


Is it possible for everyone in America to have inexpensive, healthy and delicious food?

A: Let’s separate the question into three parts. Healthy food for everyone? That is a matter of educating people about where food comes from and how it affects the human body. Delicious food for everyone? Again, that is a matter of learning how to purchase and prepare, in addition to experiencing good taste beyond the realm of fast food. But when it comes to inexpensive food for everyone on earth, the solution must also depend on government policies. It is now clear that the future will bring drought, freeze, flood, and crop disease, and while technology and eco-agricultural methods can help increase yields and decrease prices, the price of the most basic foodstuffs is set in America. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission must ban Wall Street investors from exploiting the futures markets as profit centers. There is no upside to gambling on hunger, betting on the price of food, and speculating on the source of life itself. The great grain markets should be reserved for those whose business is food. Get the bankers out of them!

For Food Day, Frederick Kaufman will be participating in a Twitter chat on 10/24 at 3pm ET about how food became a financial product. Use #FoodDayChat to join!

Frederick Kaufman is a contributing editor at Harper’s and a professor at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. He has written about American food culture and other subjects for the New Yorker, Foreign Policy, Gourmet, Saveur, the New York Times Magazine, Wired, and many more. He has spoken about this issue at the United Nations and has appeared on NBC, MSNBC, Fox Business News, Democracy Now, NPR’s Radio Lab and BBC World Service

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