The Decline of the South
Food Issues Book Club, The Politics of Food Supply Chapter 5

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 5:
The Decline of the South - Changing Power within U.S. Agriculture

Editor's note: the photographs accompanying the summary were taken at Whitney Plantation (by me) in the summer of 2015.  The Whitney Plantation is the only plantation in the South that operates as a slavery museum (rather than a wedding hotspot).  Originally planted with indigo, sugar, and rice, cotton is still grown on the adjacent property.  After slavery, the plantation was used extensively for sharecropping.  The plantation was built by the Haydel family.  (Yes, that Haydel family.)


As discussed in the previous chapter, the decades between 1945 and 1975 saw dramatic changes in U.S. agricultural policy, accompanied by societal and political shifts in power.
"Southern planters tended to favor supply management policy, but their ability to protect this policy depended on their dominance over southern politics and national policies.  The southern rural class structure, that is, the plantation system, allowed planters to dominate the South's political economy, which then gave them disproportionate influence over national policies.  As this class structure changed during the 1950s and 1960s, however, the southern planters fell from their politically dominant position.  After exerting great influence in Congress, the Democratic Party, and national politics from about 1932 to 1960, planters began to lose political power as the Republican Party gained influence in the South and blacks gained influence in the Democratic Party.  This fall from power had important consequences for agricultural policy because the southern planters were among the most ardent supporters of supply management policy."
Statues of children in the Antioch Church
After slavery was deemed unconstitutional in 1865, Africans and their descendants who had been forcibly brought to the states needed to find a way to make a living.  Likewise, southern planters had to figure out a new way to keep their plantations running, now that they could no longer force people to do the work for no pay.  Part of the solution reached was tenant farming and sharecropping.  "Tenant farmers in the South rented portions of land and supplied the "cultivating power (usually mules) and implements and customarily [paid] two-thirds of the seed and fertilizer costs."  With sharecropping, in contrast, the landowner "[supplied] everything used in production (including housing) except labor and [furnished] half the cost of seed and fertilizer."  Sharecropping looked very much like slavery, the main difference being payment in the form of a share of the crop.  Some tenants were cash tenants, who did not share their crop with the landowner, but these were far less common than sharecroppers or share tenants."

Though this system was clearly better than chattel slavery, it still afforded planters inappropriate levels of power over the laborers.  Tenants unable to pay rent wound up with "crop liens" owed to planters.  Planters could also expel tenants whenever they saw fit.  'The crop-lien system and the informality of contracts often put 'absolute control of relationships in the hands of the landlord.'"

Slave quarters for two families.
Whereas other crop harvests were mechanized in the early 1900s, cotton - the primary cash crop of the South - remained largely hand-harvested until the 1960s.  In 1960, 51% of the southern cotton crop was harvested by hand.  "As late as 1962, most southern states relied heavily on laborers to pick cotton by hand.  Control over a sufficiently large supply of labor was therefore crucial, and this need to secure labor propelled the class structure."  The affording of rights to black people interfered with such control.

The AAA of 1933 was created, at least in part, to provide financial support to southern planters.  Ironically, the Act and planters' reaction to it wound up changing the underlying class structure of the South, and undermining planters' business methods.  "Supply management policy weakened the plantation system by supplying federal subsidies that encouraged planters to replace tenants with hired workers and to mechanize."  This was in large part due to planters' unwillingness to share subsidy payments with tenants and sharecroppers, despite AAA's requirements that they do so.  Cotton "planters kept almost 90 percent of AAA payments in the early New Deal.  Planters had no obligation to share subsidy payments with hired hands.  The planters' greed, then, was ultimately their undoing.

"Though supply management policy helped to initiate the demise of the plantation system, the New Deal left the system of racial oppression and political exclusion in the South largely untouched."  As planters moved away from tenant and sharecropping labor and toward wage labor, southern blacks were pushed off of farms and moved from rural to urban areas.  The "Great Migration" to northern cities enabled blacks to gain a voice in voting - from which they were still shut out in the South through various forms of illegal but socially accepted obstruction and intimidation.  "And although northern cities were not havens of racial equality and democracy, they nonetheless provided blacks with more social and political rights and presented a much smaller threat of violence than that which blacks faced in the rural South."  Even in the South, creating urban communities allowed blacks to become more socially powerful and begin to fight back against racial oppression.

A holding pen for slaves on sale.
"The civil rights movement challenged the political elements of the plantation system that the AAA did not."  The Freedom Summer of 1964 in Mississippi, organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CRE) and focused on black voter registration in the South, increased the voting power and therefore political power of the black community.  The resulting Voting Rights Act of 1965 solidified this shift.  Presidential candidates from both parties suddenly became concerned with courting the black vote, and at least paying lip service to civil rights issues.

"In the 1950s, whites' massive resistance to racial integration enveloped the South.  This resistance was led by the planters and disrupted economic activity and developments, thereby conflicting with the interests of industry."  The civil disobedience actions of the civil rights movement met with violent and disruptive responses from whites.  Those responses (rather than the demonstrations themselves), frequently led or egged on by planters and their cronies, disrupted business and industry and fueled new resentments - and allyships.

Much strife ensued around the landmark desegregation case of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, and the enforced desegregation of public schools that followed.  Schools that chose to shut down rather than desegregate caused economic disinvestment, leading to difficulty in opening new plants.  These disruptions put planters further at odds with the rising southern industrial class.  Blacks aligned with industry, presenting a more united opposition to planters and their way of life.

"[T]he civil rights movement played a hidden though important role in the retrenchment of supply management.  Supply management policy undermined the economic dimensions of the plantation system.  One important effect was to allow blacks to leave the rural South, which helped to create an environment conducive to the rise of the civil rights movement.  This movement for racial equality then challenged the lingering political dimensions of the plantation system as well as the political power of southern planters.  Southern politics became more inclusive, and the Democratic Party began to support civil rights more fully.  All this reduced the power of southern planters over national policies, including agricultural policy.  Thus, the transformation of the southern class structure was the underlying factor that allowed the retrenchment of supply management policy."

Talk about mind blown.  This chapter does an excellent job of drawing lines between agricultural policy and the civil rights movement, something I have literally never thought about before.  I am sure that historians disagree on the degree of influence of various factors in the rise of the civil rights movement, but the evidence here is compelling that agricultural policy at least played a role.

I am frustrated a bit by the tone of this chapter.  In certain passages Winders seems to fully acknowledge the utter wrongness of slavery and the decades of oppression that followed its abolition.  But he also takes a very passive tone about black people being "allowed" to leave rural lands and find their way to urban settings, and how great that ultimately was for the black community.  Let's be clear.  Black people were not "allowed" to leave farms any more than they were "allowed" to seek work as agricultural labor in the states.  They were forced in, and they were forced out again, compelled by white greed in both directions.  That they were able to rise up out the deep-seated and profound structural racism of the Jim Crow South to fight for their rights is a testament only to their own strength and courage.  They were done no favors.

A light bulb went off for me in the discussion of the movement of blacks into more urban areas between 1930 and 1960.  White flight!  I have tried to understand the process of white flight here in New Orleans; its scars are all over the city.  My own father's family moved away from the Irish Channel and to Kenner after the first black person, a tailor, purchased a house on their block.  (Mind you my family was not well-to-do - they were poor Irish and my dad was a foster kid, one of many.  And even for them, living on a block with a black homeowner was more than they could bear.)  It dawned on me in reading this chapter that in all my thinking about where the white people went and why, I hadn't thought about where the black people were coming from.  Certainly some were coming from neighborhoods with a higher concentration of black residents.  To this day, New Orleans has neighborhoods that are nearly 100 percent black.  But perhaps some were also coming, literally, from the cotton fields.  Or maybe the line was not quite that direct.  Perhaps someday I will find the time and skill to dig up the research that undoubtedly exists about the movement of black people, post-emancipation, in southern Louisiana.

Finally, I would be remiss to mention the forced desegregation of schools in the South without mentioning Ruby Bridges.  On November 14, 1960, Ruby became the first black person to attend a public school in New Orleans.  1960.  Ruby was just a baby when she was put into the desegregation spotlight, and had to be guarded by court marshals because of threats upon her baby life.  She was too young to really know what was happening.  Whether because of or despite that early experience, she grew into an incredible woman who is quite active in the New Orleans social justice community.  Incidentally, before moving to New Orleans, Ruby's family were sharecroppers in Mississippi.

An "uncredited DOJ Photographer" shot this iconic photograph.


Shifting Agricultural Coalitions
Food Issues Book Club, The Politics of Food Supply Chapter 4

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 4:
Shifting Agricultural Coalitions - Sliding Back toward the Free Market, 1945-1975


The slow retrenchment of federal agricultural supports for the 30 years post-WWII was driven by "dynamics within agriculture," but politics also played a role.  Republicans took the White House in 1952 for the first time in 20 years, and policies shifted slowly back toward deregulation.  "With Republicans in control of the executive branch, the USDA, and the House and Senate agricultural committees, a dramatic policy shift might have seemed imminent."  Opposition from both parties, though, slowed change.  Congress, it seemed, could not reach a consensus on the direction of agricultural policy, nor could presidential administrations.

Several waves of change occurred in the decades after WWII:
 "The period from 1945 to 1975 can be divided into three shorter periods, each marked by an important change in agricultural policy.  First, price supports were reduced and made flexible between 1945 and 1954.  Second, production controls were weakened between 1954 and 1964.  Third, both price supports and production controls were significantly changed in the early 1970s."
PL 480 created the Office of Food for Peace.
During WWII, price supports had been raised to 90% parity.  Though legislative intention was that supports would revert to 52-75% parity two years after the war, extensions in 1948, 1949, and 1952 kept parity at 90% until 1954.  Small reductions at last came in the 1954 Farm Bill under Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Benson, which reduced supports to 75-90% parity.  In the same year, the Agriculture Trade Development and Assistance Act, also known as Public Law 480 or PL 480, was passed.  The act "aimed to create new markets for U.S. agricultural commodities in the periphery of the world economy through the use of international food aid."

By the late 1940s, the corn segment of the farm bloc had begun opposing acreage restrictions.  Additionally, the Farm Bureau began calling for flexible price supports that would change with market prices.  "In its official policy statement, the Farm Bureau stated, 'we do not consider it the responsibility of the Government to generate profitable prices to any group.'"  Such flexibility was opposed by wheat and cotton segments, which continued to champion price supports and supply management.  The cotton-wheat coalition prevailed until 1954.

The corn sector fought production controls across the board, not just for itself, due to both a desire to keep livestock feed prices low, and because it feared competition from other feed crops.  Cotton producers, for instance, were turning to growing soybeans on the land from which it was restricted from growing cotton.  Soybeans are a feed crop that could compete with corn.  Without limits on cotton production, such alternate production would be unnecessary for cotton growers.  It must be noted that the Corn Belt was also home to 64-70% of U.S. hog production.  As is the case today, corn was grown primarily for livestock, not human, consumption.  Use as hog feed combined with increasing meat consumption prevented for corn the surpluses that wheat and cotton were experiencing.  "Coupled with the emerging livestock complex, which rested on intensive and industrial production methods, this increasing consumption of animals made supply management policy less necessary for feed grains, especially corn."

Corn production in the U.S.

Hog production in the U.S.  Notice any correlation?
In contrast, wheat continued to support production controls as its global demand lessened.  The cotton segment, which frequently grew corn on acreage disallowed for cotton growth by production restrictions, naturally desired high fixed corn price supports.  "The cotton segment's embeddedness within the Democratic Party and Congress virtually ensured the protection of its interests whenever this party held Congress or the White House."  The shift in 1954 to a Republican White House and Congress allowed the corn segment to become the more influential interest, and policies began to change to align to the benefit of corn.  However, strong representation of the wheat and cotton segments in the House and Senate agricultural committees prevented the shift toward free-market policies from happening too quickly.  "With southern planters so influential in Congress and the wheat segment splitting the Republican Party, the cotton-wheat coalition exerted substantial influence over agricultural policy."

Wheat and cotton segments' support of production controls, however, waned after 1954, ultimately resulting in further retrenchment by the mid-1960s.  Wheat interests moved away from rigid and toward flexible production controls as a result of PL 480, which had created a market for wheat surpluses by increasing export opportunities.  "Food aid secured markets for U.S. wheat by changing diets and agricultural production in periphery nations.  With exports expanding, U.S. wheat growers could increase production rather than trying to control it."  Likewise, the cotton segment's interests shifted when it moved away from cotton and toward soybeans.  By the time of the 1964 Cotton-Wheat Act, corn, wheat, and cotton were once again aligned in policy preference - this time in wanting to move away from the support and control policies each previously promoted.

The next significant policy change came in 1973 with the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act (ACPA), which "removed parity from price supports and dropped acreage reduction requirements."  The bill received strong support from all agricultural regions.  Some segments - particularly corn, which had experienced an explosion in export rates - opposed the bill because it did not completely eliminate supports and restrictions (which had become voluntary).  But this opposition was not strong or ubiquitous enough to prevent the bill's passage.  Wheat supported the bill due to its still-increasing exports.  Cotton remained in favor of price supports but opposed strict controls as synthetic fibers became cheaper and more prevalent than cotton, cotton imports increased, and soybean sales continued to grow, but ultimately supported the bill.

Two primary factors made the passage of the ACPA in 1973 possible:
"First, the world economic context reduced the need for production controls or price supports, at least in the short term.  Exports of cotton, wheat, corn, and soybeans flourished [as a result of PL 480].  Second, the cotton-wheat coalition suffered from a decrease in power.  Southern planters had become large commercial farmers, losing their hold over regional politics and the Democratic Party.  This made it much less likely that the cotton segment, even in an alliance with wheat, could get the farm program of their choice as they had in the past."
Ironically, the supply management policies so long supported by southern Democrats ultimately undermined their political power.


That corn producers gained prominence in determining the direction of U.S. agricultural policy in the 1960s, and have not yet let go, is evident in our supermarkets.  Corn's superiority strikingly clear in this setting.  One aisle offers all fresh produce and dairy products, another half an aisle offers meats, and one more presents wheat in its various forms.  And in the ten to fifteen aisles in between, corn reigns supreme.  Even those products not made of corn contain it in some form.  Staters who eat processed foods eat a lot of corn.  Even the meats offered are arguably corn products, given that most livestock animals are fed corn-based diets.  Meat, then, could really be said to be processed corn.


Corn. (And, yes, a lil rice and wheat.  But there's corn in there, pretty much always.)
King Corn, if you haven't seen it yet, is worth watching.

I am keen to learn more about PL 480 and its use of food aid to bolster U.S. exports.  It should be noted that U.S. food aid, so frequently touted as a great humanitarian effort, was embarked upon not out of some expression of generosity and caring but to support the profitability of U.S. crops.  While I too would love to believe that we, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, provide food and other aid to "developing" countries out of the goodness of our hearts, this has simply never been the case.


Winning Supply Management
Food Issues Book Club, The Politics of Food Supply Chapter 3 (Part 2)

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 3 (Part 2):
Winning Supply Management - A New Deal for Agriculture, 1933-1945

Summary (continued from previous post):

Despite requirements for planters (land owners) to share AAA price support payments with tenants and sharecroppers - the people actually growing food - many planters refused to do so.  Divisions arose within the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (the administrative arm of the AAA)  as to whether "rural reform" should be a goal.  In particular, Oscar Johnston and Cully Cobb, respectively the Finance Division and Cotton Section heads, "had significant ties to southern planters.  The primary focus of these conservative agrarians was raising farm prices through production controls; rural reform was largely absent from the agenda."  {In other words, the white landowners and their pals had no interest in creating equity for poor and black farmworkers.}

Maps are really interesting y'all...
A group of "urban liberals" within the Administration, headed by the Undersecretary of Agriculture and the Administration's general counsel, argued for tenants and sharecroppers, pushing for payment sharing and even land redistribution so that the workers could access subsidies and become self-sustaining.  Outside the Administration, the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union (STFU) was formed by socialist organizers.  "[T]heir efforts were met with violence and intimidation.  Administration members' "contacts in the South told them that [STFU] were Communists trying to start uprisings among black tenants and croppers."  Though the urban liberals made a valiant attempt to support sharecroppers and tenants, they quickly lost their jobs in the administration for it.

"Despite the liberal purge, legislation in 1938 required landowners to share AAA payments with tenants and sharecroppers.  Following this legislation, however, planters frequently expelled tenants from their land and hired croppers and tenants as wage laborers, who had no legal claim to federal farm subsidies.  In this way, the planters won the battle over the distribution of AAA payments.  Here again, supply management policy, centered on price supports and production controls, solidified its position as the core of the U.S. agricultural policy.  Ironically, as Chapter 5 explains, this policy ultimately undermined the very system that planters and conservative agrarians fought to protect: the southern plantation system."

In 1941, the AAA was amended to include 14 additional crops, and increased support levels for the basic commodities.  These were raised again in 1942.  Cotton supports were further raised in 1945, by which time supports were being provided by a whopping 166 commodities (up from the original six).  Interestingly, these increases occurred while "wartime demand solved the problems that farmers had faced during the previous two decades."  Concurrently, all efforts toward "rural reform" - the support of poor small farms, sharecroppers, and tenants - dissolved.


Until now, I had no idea of the level of structural racism that has been built into U.S. agricultural policy.  Given the history of U.S. agriculture (read: slavery), this cannot be a surprise.  Structural racism was present in many policies of that time, as is indicated by a bit of an offhand comment Winders makes early in the chapter: "[T]he Social Security Act of 1935 and the National Labor Relations Act of 1937 both explicitly excluded agricultural workers.  As a result, most southern blacks were effectively excluded from these federal policies."

A Louisiana sharecropper, 1939
After Africans and their descendants were emancipated from slavery, many turned to sharecropping and tenant farming - a way to put already obtained skills to use to support themselves.  Sharecropping was nearly always a life of poverty and debt.  While many sharecroppers were white, nearly all black people in the South worked in agriculture as they were not permitted to work in other industries.  Winders notes that "neither tenant farmers nor sharecroppers had much access to voting," and that "planters tended to dominate the local committees administering the AAA, while tenants were largely excluded from representation."  The subtext here is that while nearly all planters were white and wealthy, sharecroppers and tenants were all poor and many were black.

The "urban liberals" within the AAA Administration literally lost their jobs when they tried to take action on behalf of the poor and black.  Black people were first legally and then illegally prevented from voting, meaning that they could have no influence on their representatives in Local, State, or Federal Government.  Blacks were also not allowed into meetings of white men.  The legacy of this outright denial - at the hands of the government and of powerful whites - of the right to work and be paid for work is still clearly visible in the abject poverty of so many communities of color in the South today.


Winning Supply Management
Food Issues Book Club, The Politics of Food Supply Chapter 3 (Part 1)

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 3 (Part 1):
Winning Supply Management - A New Deal for Agriculture, 1933-1945


"In the depth of the depression, a time of dire need and despair, the Federal Government began to pursue a seemingly irrational policy: restricting the production and availability of many essential goods, including food."  Just a few months after his election, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) into law as part of his "New Deal."  The act was drafted by members of the new administration's Department of Agriculture with assistance from agrarian economist Mordecai Ezekiel, based on previous legislative efforts, and influenced by farm organizations and policy experts.  It was also necessarily designed to be acceptable to the southern Democrats that then held powerful positions in Congress.

Among other provisions, the Act provided price supports for certain commodities and also restricted acreage.  The Community Credit Corporation (CCC) was created by the Act to administer its prescribed prices supports.  When market prices were above accepted levels, farmers could market their crops.  When market prices fell below the target price, though, farmers forfeited their crops to the CCC for the established support level price, limiting supply and exerting pressure on the market.  Farmers were thus paid a reasonable price for their crops whether sold on the open market or forfeited, and the government obtained surplus crops to do with as it wished.

The price supports were based on "parity" with a brief, five-year period of agricultural success:
"Price support levels were meant to raise agricultural prices, and hence farm income, relative to other consumer and industrial prices.  Therefore, price supports were based on "parity," which aimed to give agricultural commodities "the same purchasing power in terms of goods and services farmers buy that the commodities had" in the period 1909 to 1914, when agricultural prices reached historic heights relative to other prices.  Price supports, then, gave agricultural prices parity with industrial prices, based on the ratio of prices between 1909 and 1914."
In addition to these price supports, "AAA required farmers to adhere to acreage allotments, which were determined by growers' historical production of basic commodities."  Farmers who did not adhere to acreage limitations could not receive price supports, even when farms remained small.  Those farmers who nevertheless chose to ignore acreage restrictions could be limited by the USDA in how much of a crop they could put on the market.  "Whether through restrictions on acreage or marketing, production controls under the AAA sought to eliminate surpluses and their degenerative effect on agricultural prices and farm income."  In this way and others, larger operations were advantaged by the Act.

Commodities initially covered by the AAA were corn, wheat, cotton, rice, tobacco, and peanuts.  Both price supports and control efforts for these crops were funded by a tax on agricultural processors.  This tax, unsurprisingly, was highly controversial.

Other provisions of the AAA involved the destruction of commodities.  One of the Act's first iterations came in the form of the Pig Purchase Program, wherein the government purchased and slaughtered approximately 6 million hogs to raise the price of pork and other pig products.  Farmers were also paid to reduce hog production.  The slaughtered pigs were used as fertilizer, hog feed, and food for the poor.  The government was not alarmed that much of the fertilizer went to waste, "because the central goal of the programs was to remove pigs from the market - not to provide relief for people left poor and hungry in the economic collapse."  Similar overproduction-destruction tactics were used for crops and cotton; to ensure an increase in pork prices, production of feed crops was also reduced.

The 1933 AAA did decrease production, which resulted in increased agricultural good prices and thus farm income.  Nevertheless, the Act faced opposition from some farmers, some government administrators, and most strongly from the processing corporations footing the bill via taxes.  Some farmer organizations opposed price supports based on parity: National Farmer's Union president John Simpson argued that such prices were too low, amounting to less than half the cost of production.  Some also argued that "agricultural production should not be reduced until all Americans had adequate diets."

The Farmers Independence Council, a voice for meatpackers, "claimed to be protecting the liberty and independence of farmers from government control" in its opposition to AAA's government oversight provisions.  Other farm organizations recognized that the costs of taxes on processors were ultimately paid by farmers in the form of increased processing fees.  The FDR administration used distasteful tactics to discredit these organizations.

Those who stood to lose money as a direct result of the AAA - the newly taxed processors - opposed the act most vehemently.  They did so through the courts.  "Various processors sued the government claiming that this tax was an undue burden and was therefore unconstitutional."  By the time the Supreme Court heard U.S. v. Butler, over 1700 cases had been filed.  The decision in Butler in 1936 ultimately ruled the AAA unconstitutional, because it levied a tax that benefited one group rather than the nation as a whole, and because federally enforced acreage restrictions infringed upon States' rights.  Thus, "supply management policy was lost, at least briefly, under pressure from agribusiness processors."

In response, congress quickly passed the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act.  The Act "paid farmers to reduce their production of soil-depleting crops, which tended to be defined so as to overlap with the commodities that were overproduced."  Funds came from the general fund of the treasury, and the controls were couched as "in the interest of general welfare."  The AAA was re-issued in 1938, this time drawing from treasury general funds.


Two initial thoughts:
  1. Is it super weird that prices were based on those of a five year period?  Like, really?
  2. Tobacco was covered?  Tobacco has literally no real purpose.  It's like sugar or coffee: people reaaaaaaly like it, but if they never ever had it again in their lives they'd suffer no ill effects and would in fact probably be better off.  This speaks, I think, to how highly we value our vices - or perhaps to the strength of the tobacco industry.
Then there's this doozy:  Six million pigs.  SIX MILLION PIGS.  Six.  Million.  Pigs.  I'm really not sure when I'm going to get over that.  Yet again, we have a stunning example that money is more important to both the U.S. Government and especially to the food industry than hungry people are.  Perhaps we should remind the GMO champions of that...

Let us take a moment now to dissect the following sentence: "The slaughtered pigs were used as fertilizer, hog feed, and food for the poor."
  • Slaughtered pigs used as fertilizer?  This is not now, nor has it ever been, a common practice.  Rotting meat does not make good fertilizer.  It's not surprising, then, that there was little demand for it and it went to waste.  I shudder to think of those storage units.
  • Slaughtered pigs as hog feed?  This is, sadly, a common practice in the industrial meat industry.  Until very recently, actually, when the wider world gained a better concept of what prions are because of "mad cow disease," forcing farm animals to be cannibals was an everyday occurrence.  Farm animals are fed to farm animals to this day - it is only required that they must not eat their own species.
  • Slaughtered pigs as food for the poor?  Clearly this is not ideal.  Ethically and factually, pigs do not need to die for people to be fed.  HOWEVER.  If the government had decided that these pigs would die regardless of how their bodies would be used afterward, which evidence indicates is the case, the absolute least they could do would have bee to use those deaths to help people struggling through the country's worst economic crisis to date.  Clearly, though, the government was concerned only with the welfare of people who happened to own large businesses.  Sound familiar?
It is also quite unsurprising that, rather than cut into profits, processors both passed tax costs on to farmers and also pushed back on paying the tax to the point of litigation.  Of note, one of the loudest voices among the grumbling meatpackers was Oscar Meyer, then "president of one of the largest meat processors."  Yes, that one.

Given my legal background, I exhibit no surprise that this Act was taken down by a SCOTUS decision.  The dissent to that decision is quite interesting, stating in its conclusion:
A tortured construction of the Constitution is not to be justified by recourse to extreme examples of reckless congressional spending which might occur if courts could not prevent -- expenditures which, even if they could be thought to effect any national purpose, would be possible only by action of a legislature lost to all sense of public responsibility. Such suppositions are addressed to the mind accustomed to believe that it is the business of courts to sit in judgment on the wisdom of legislative action. Courts are not the only agency of government that must be assumed to have capacity to govern. Congress and the courts both unhappily may falter or be mistaken in the performance of their constitutional duty. But interpretation of our great charter of government which proceeds on any assumption that the responsibility for the preservation of our institutions is the exclusive concern of any one of the three branches of government, or that it alone can save them from destruction is far more likely, in the long run, "to obliterate the constituent members" of "an indestructible union of indestructible states" than the frank recognition that language, even of a constitution, may mean what it says: that the power to tax and spend includes the power to relieve a nationwide economic maladjustment by conditional gifts of money.
You tell 'em, Justice Stone.


Early Battles Lost
Food Issues Book Club, The Politics of Food Supply Chapter 2

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 2:
Early Battles Lost - Reaching for Regulation, 1920-1932


Prior to its intervention into agriculture in the 1930s, the U.S. government supported farmers through education, low export tariffs, and minor agribusiness regulation.  But after six straight years of decline in agricultural prices beginning in 1927, gross farm income dropped by more than half for all agricultural commodities and the climate was ripe for new policy implementation.  "With farm prices and income in a free fall, farmers throughout the country increasingly faced bankruptcy and bank foreclosure on their farm mortgages."  National agriculture was at risk.

Overproduction played a leading role in the decline that began in the late 1920s, as did reduced exports.  Key crops of cotton, corn, and wheat were each affected differently by these factors. Cotton was impacted primariy by overproduction, corn experienced a dramatic reduction in exports, and wheat was affected strongly by both factors, being "crowded out" of the international wheat market by production from other countries.

New Orleans' own Cotton Mill.  The building is still there... it's condos now.
Cotton and wheat surpluses were derived both through new industrialized farming techniques as well as through uninhibited expansion of acreage being brought into service for these crops.  At the same time, "agriculture in Europe recovered from the devastation of World War I, meaning that fewer agricultural goods from the United States would make their way into Europe."  With production recovering, European countries sought to increase their own exports as a means of generating income needed to pay off war debts.  The U.S.'s status as a creditor rather than debtor nation increased the value of its currency, making its products more expensive than those coming out of Europe.  U.S. products were no longer a good international value.

Presidents in office from 1920 to 1932 saw the agricultural depression as "deriving from a lack of economic coordination," and "opposed policy solutions that created significant intrusion into the economy, such as directly influencing prices or production."  As evidenced by continuing decline, this approach was not adequately addressing the problem.  Congress, particularly its members from farming regions, advocated for Federal intervention.

McNary and Haugen in 1929
Congress's first coordinated attempt to provide greater support to farmers came in 1924 in the form of the McNary-Haugen bill.  However, it was poorly received by both the Presidential administration and the non-farming sectors of the food chain, and was defeated overwhelmingly - in no small part due to the "nays" of southern Democrats of cotton-producing states, who at that time did not yet desire intervention.

The bill was defeated again in 1926, but less robustly.  It was then refocused on southern commodities such as cotton, rice, and tobacco, and was passed in both houses of Congress - but vetoed by president Calvin Coolidge - in 1927, and again in 1928.  With each vote farming conditions had continued to worsen, and southern Democratic support had continued to increase.  Nevertheless, the bill faded away after these numerous failed efforts.  That farm organizations were not involved in the drafting of the bill may have been key in its failure, along with farmers' lack of representation in the Presidents' administrations.

After his election in 1928, President Herbert Hoover charged Congress with developing an agricultural policy that would create "stabilization corporations to protect farmers from seasonal gluts and periodical surpluses."  Thus the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act (AMA) was born.  Through the Act, "[a]gricultural cooperatives would help to control the supply of agricultural goods by helping farmers to withhold surpluses from the market and thereby raise prices."  Essentially a marketing policy, its focus on increasing price "was the AMA's downfall given the economic context of falling exports for wheat, rising production for wheat and cotton, and declining prices for most agricultural commodities."

Additionally, just months after the AMA's passage the Great Depression caused gross farm income to fall by more that half.  Because it did not address production, the Farm Board it created to buy surplus crops quickly ran out of funds.  "[T]he social organization of farming made voluntary reductions in production irrational."  Meanwhile, "farm leaders and agricultural economists were formulating and gaining support for mandatory production control programs."


The idea that people will stop doing something that is currently making them money, without legally being forced to, is laughable.  As is evidenced here, that trend is not new.  It is of course illogical.  The sole function of a business is to make money.  If a business is making all the money it can, it has no motivation to change the way it is operating.  This becomes sticky when the commodity that the business makes money on is something that people literally die without.  What is best for the country is often not what is best for business - and, it seems, business always wins.  The next chapter is particularly illustrative of the idea that our government is more invested in keeping businesses going than in keeping its own people alive.


Agriculture between State and Market
Food Issues Book Club, The Politics of Food Supply Chapter 1

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Politics of Food Supply, Chapter 1:
Agriculture between State and Market


Beginning with the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) of 1933, The U.S. government endeavored to keep prices for common agricultural goods from falling too low by providing price supports, and by attaching those supports to restrictions on acreage to grow them.  The Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act of 1996, also known as the Freedom to Farm Act, removed both the supports and the restrictions, effectively ending any attempt at supply management.

Spurred on by early policy changes, conflict arose among agricultural regions.  "[T]he cotton-producing South allied with the Wheat Belt to support supply management policy, while the Corn Belt pursued more market-oriented policies."  Differences in interests caused strife not only among different types of producers, but also between the private and government agencies that represented them.  Despite Farm Bureau and corn industry efforts, price support and acreage restriction policies did not significantly change until the FAIR Act.

From 1940 to 1954, government involvement in agriculture expanded.  "[P]rice support levels were raised substantially, existing programs (price supports and production controls) were expanded to cover many more commodities, and export subsidies were created to supplement price support and production controls." A period of retrenchment followed from 1954 until 1973, with price supports reduced and production controls eased.  With the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act, part of the 1973 Farm Bill signed by President Nixon, parity was replaced with target prices and deficiency payments, production controls were temporarily suspended, and food aid was replaced with subsidy-free commercial exports.  These changes drastically reduced supports paid to farmers.

Supports increased briefly again from 1978 to 1986 in response to global agricultural turmoil, but receded again by the 1990s.  Thus, from the AAA to the FAIR Act, "the basic tenet of U.S. agricultural policy remained relatively constant: support farm income by raising prices for agricultural commodities through supply management to control surpluses.  ...  [T]he government extensively influenced market prices and production decisions in agriculture."  The FAIR Act removed almost entirely farmer supports which had been in place for over 60 years.  The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 reinstated some income supports, but did not address supply management.

A New Mexico farmer reviews the AAA
Economist Karl Polanyi described the "double movement" nature of the free market economy.  "In a market economy, various groups continually push for a free market unrestrained by government intervention; but as the market becomes less restrained, it begins to wreak havoc on people's lives. ... Whether promoting the free market or regulating the market, national policies will eventually prompt a reaction in the opposite direction."  Various groups inevitably encourage policies which benefit themselves.  "[F]or example, U.S. cotton farmers, who dominated world markets, favored free trade; whereas U.S. sugar producers, who could be undersold by producers in poorer countries such as Cuba, preferred tariffs."

The laissez-faire, free-market influence on agriculture in the early twentieth century, combined with drought, led to the "Dust Bowl" conditions of the 1920s and 30s.  The agricultural supports put in place by the New Deal, including the AAA of 1933, were an effort to repair the damage that had been done to farming by the free market approach.

Though a common myth explains the longevity of strong farm supports as resulting from the influence of a strong and unified effort from farmers known as the "Farm Bloc," divisions among agricultural regions were actually more influential: "[P]olitical divisions and coalitions within agriculture underlie both large and small shifts in agricultural policy."  Additionally, though, conflicts among class segments of agricultural workers - landowners, farmworkers, agribusiness, and so on - were a driving force.  "Class dynamics lay behind the rise and decline of supply management policy. ... "[S]ocial organization of capitalism creates intraclass conflict as well as interclass conflict.  In fact, most conflict occurs within classes, while interclass conflict is relatively rare even though it is the underlying process in capitalism."

New class segments rarely arise.  Those in existence in U.S. agriculture fragmented along three lines: 1) regional crop specialization; 2) different labor requirements and economies for different commodities; and 3) differences in the necessary inputs and outputs for different commodities.  Corn growers in the Midwest had different needs at every point of production than cotton growers in the South.  "With such division, then, a homogeneous "agricultural class" does not exist; instead, segments of agriculture emerge."  Class segments aligned along different political lines, enhancing schisms. 


This chapter covers a ton of material on the history of U.S. farm policy.  It first lays out the ups and downs ("contours," as Winders phrases it) of U.S. farm policy throughout the core of the twentieth century.  It then addresses the potential causes and effects of these waivers, outlining concepts that will be further explored in future chapters.  It seems unnecessary, then, to discuss them in depth here.

I have long thought that capitalism is a poor plan for items necessary to basic human survival - food chief among them.  We can clearly see what happens when food is commodified.  At worst, this method of food distribution leads to famine.  But even at its best, food insecurity runs rampant even in the most developed countries. History has shown that revolution is the inevitable result of long-term food shortage.  If the Western world wants to avoid an uprising, something must change - soon.


Food Issues Book Club: September!

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Hi y'all!  Welcome to September!  Who's excited for this month's book, The Politics of Food Supply- U.S. Agricultural Policy in the World Economy by Bill Winders?  Here's what I can say for sure so far: the title is a mouthful.  Gonna have to figure out how to slim that down for posts.

By the time I'm finished reading this book I hope to have a much better understanding of US food policies, such as the much-maligned subsidy policies and the much-debated Farm Bill.  Yay learning!

You coming along for the fun?  If you are now reading or have previously read this book, please chime in!


Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Concluding Thoughts

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Concluding Thoughts

Well folks, that's a wrap.  I had a good time writing my letters to Peter and Jim; I wonder if they'll ever read them.

Overall, I wasn't thrilled with this book.  As with Berry, I'm glad to now say that I've read Singer.  I was fully expecting him to be a hardcore abolitionist and even more, so his moderation was pleasing and surprising.  But oof, that whole "obesity is amoral" mess really just prevents me from being able to respect these guys.

Big picture: if you've never ever addressed the idea that there may be ethical concerns around food, go ahead and read this book.  It would more aptly be titled The Ethics of the Animal Products We Eat, particularly since there are HUGE ethical issues in the food industry (food advertising, racism / classism in redlining and food availability, WORKERS) that are barely if at all touched on here, so don't go expecting a full discussion out of it.  If you're already aware that food has extensive ethical considerations, skip this one.  It'll just annoy you.

See y'all soon for our next book, The Politics of Food Supply -U.S. Agricultural Policy in the World Economy by Bill Winders.  Should be a riotous good time!


Inquiring minds want to eat.
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 18

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 18: What Should We Eat?

OK.  I've cooled off from yesterday's rant, and I'm ready to discuss the rest of chapter eighteen of The Ethics of What We Eat, What Should We Eat? with you.  All in all it was a good summary of the book, and I largely agree with your conclusions.  Let's take a look at them.

First you lay out five principles that you "think most people will share."  They are 1) Transparency: We have a right to know how our food is produced.  2) Fairness: Producing food should not impose costs on others.  3) Humanity: Inflicting significant suffering on animals for minor reasons is wrong.  4) Social responsibility: Workers should have decent wages and working conditions.  and 5) Needs: Preserving life and health justifies more than other desires.

Well friends, I think we know different people.  In my experience of "people," the answers as to whether people share these five principles are 1) Sure, unless it interferes with me profiting from it; 2) Sure, as long as I can still have whatever I want for dirt cheap; 3) I don't really give a damn about animal suffering unless I have to look at it or if it's a dog; 4) Workers should "bootstrap" and get a better job if they want better conditions and wages; and 5) Preserving MY life and MY health justifies absolutely anything.

Perhaps you're talking about what people say they believe, and I'm talking about how they behave - and never the twain shall meat?  (Ha ha, see what I did there?)  If people believed and acted as you describe, the food industry would not be what it is.

You make the following declarations in the chapter about what is and is not ethical to eat:
  • Not ethical to eat: Industrially produced foods such as factory farmed meat, eggs from caged hens, and farmed fish, are not ethically acceptable foods.
  • Ethical to eat:  Non-industrially produced foods are always preferable.  Sustainably produced shellfish; fairly traded coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, and other items for which there are fair-trade brands in your store; and vegan foods are ethically acceptable foods.
At the end of the chapter (after the section that should be burned and forgotten FOREVER), you espouse more of the reasonableness we saw in the last chapter.
"When we feel overwhelmed, it is important to avoid the mistake of thinking that if you have ethical reasons for doing something, you have to do it all the time, no matter what. ...  [T]his rule-based view isn't the only possible approach to ethics, nor the best one, in our view."
The way I see it, much to the chagrin of the abolitionists, is this: Better is not the same as good, but better is still better.  A person who only eats rennet-free dairy once a month, or who eats dairy and eggs but not meat, or even who just consciously chooses to eat less meat and sources that meat carefully, is doing better than someone who thinks that the choices are all or nothing, Standard "American" Diet or 100% vegan, and choose the SAD.

This is what frustrates me so profoundly about Gary Francione and his ilk.  I fear that the all-or-nothing, "go vegan overnight or don't bother changing" message they espouse chases people off who are ready to make meaningful changes - even if those changes don't go all the way.  On this point I believe that we agree.  It's been noted to me that these "extreme" views could push people to strive to continue going further, and I hope that's true.  But I'd rather support someone to make small changes now - and I believe people willing to make changes, if given the time and space to do so, will make even more changes down the road.  Perhaps this is because of the 13-year-long path of small changes I myself followed to find my way to permanent veganism.

Well, it's been a fun month.  I'm not sure whether my opinion of you has ultimately improved, worsened, or stayed the same - it had improved until that stunt of a section in this chapter.  Sigh.  Ah well, I'm glad that I've now read you.  Take care and keep fighting the good fight.

hearts for good,


WHAT the hell just happened?
Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Bigot Edition

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 18: What Should We Eat?... sort of.

Well friends, it's finally happened.  Here in the very last chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, I am *spitting* mad at you.

Let's talk about why, shall we?  My anger stems from a one-page section within the chapter What Should We Eat? entitled "The Ethics of Obesity."  In it, you state that people "choose to overeat and develop obesity-related health problems that require medical care," and that "[c]hoosing an unhealthy diet may seem like a personal choice, but it's not fair to the people who ultimately have to pay for it."  You do concede - in a supremely, classically fat-shaming way, that "[s]ome have eating disorders or metabolic problems that are difficult to control."  And immediately follow that with, "others just eat too much and should show more restraint."  You argue here that people who are overweight are overwhelmingly unethical and lack self-control.

AND MY MIND IS BLOWN.  Yikes!  Way to completely and utterly miss a major issue in food justice.  Could two such highly educated men as yourselves, who have spent so much of your lives studying the food industry, be so motherf*$#ing ignorant?  Apparently so!  You clearly require some educating.  Pay attention.
  • There is a multi-billion dollar food advertising business that is positively hell bent on convincing every United States resident to overeat.  Promotion of overeating is literally why this industry exists.  We are bombarded with messages to overeat, and specifically to overeat the least healthy foods available, from all possible media sources in every possible venue, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, from the moment we're born.  (And our mothers were subject to them during our time in utero.)  Telling people they can be immune to this ubiquitous and powerful messaging, and that failing to be immune to it is amoral, is delusional and ugly.
  • Food that is lacking in nutrients and high in "empty calories" is cheaper and easier by many factors than food that is healthy.  You can preach eating beans and rice all you want, and you're right, that's healthier and better in every way.  It may even be cheaper.  Except that it takes hours to prepare beans and rice starting with dry beans and dry rice.  And it requires gas or electricity, a stove, a pot (or several), and the physical ability to go to a store to procure these foods and to stand in front of a stove - things that not everyone has.  So essentially what I'm saying here is check your f*$#ing privilege.
  • Tens of millions of people in the US are food insecure, and many of them are children.  Are fat children unethical, in your view?  Many parents live in food deserts, relying on corner stores that only offer calorie-dense, nutritionally devoid "food" for their family's food needs.  Would you prefer that these parents not feed their children at all, rather than feeding them the obesogenic foods available to them?
  • As a highly privileged, solidly-middle-class, college educated white person who has a car, shops exclusively at Whole Foods and farmers markets, and has been researching food and nutrition for 15 years, I still have trouble figuring out what I should be eating and finding the time and energy to make it happen.  We live in an incredibly complex food environment that has been designed to force us all to eat poorly.  The less privileged a person is, the less time and resources that person has to navigate the labyrinth.  So once again, check your f*$#ing privilege.
  • THERE IS MORE THAN ONE REASON THAT PEOPLE BECOME OVERWEIGHT.  It has been so completely assumed that overeating - taking in more calories than a person expends - is the sole reason for overweight that no one has ever bothered to generate numbers on other possible causes of obesity.  We assume that if someone is overweight it is because they are eating more food than they need, period.  This is a function of healthism with no scientific basis.  If by chance we manage to pull our collective heads from our collective assess and put down this neoliberal, personal-responsibility view of overweight for long enough to actually study the causes of overweight beyond overconsumption, I believe wholeheartedly that we will discover that overeating is not only not the only cause, but isn't even the primary cause, of overweight.
For these reasons and so, so many more, it is positively disgusting - POSITIVELY DISGUSTING - for you to even imply that being overweight is an individual ethical issue.  You should be ashamed - yes, ASHAMED - of publishing these ideas and perpetuating one of the most appalling and damaging beliefs held by our culture.  Doing so is the epitome of behaving unethically.  Irony!

And so, Peter, Jim, I implore you: put down this neoliberal healthist Reagan-loving classist asshat bullsh*t.  Immediately.  Check your f*$#ing privilege one more time, just for good measure.

You are absolutely correct in that there is an ethical problem with overconsumption in this country.  But the transgression lies with the food industry that would literally physically cram its terrible disease-causing food down our throats if it could, not with the individual consumers who are at its mercy.

We'll talk about the rest of this chapter tomorrow.  I'm too disappointed by your behavior to talk to you any more right now.