OSPIRG hosts panel discussing food subsidies

“Do you know the government spends billions subsidizing junk food?” reads a chalk message on the sidewalk on Tuesday in front of the Hannon Library. Following the question was an invitation to an interactive panel discussion being held later that evening in the Meese Room of the Hannon Library that would address that very question and its ramifications.

The Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group, as part of the organization’s ongoing “Stop Subsidizing Junk Food” campaign, assembled a panel and put on the event, which in three expert local panelists presented, and also included local appetizers and red wine.

The government began subsidizing food in the early 1930s so that farmers would agree not to over-crop their land, said Cynthia White, a Southern Oregon University assistant professor of sociology and one of the three panelists.

“The problem has become the focus on two or three main crops, partly do to the influence of lobbying by several large agro-businesses,” she clarified.

The large, problematic agro-businesses that the panelists cited were Monsanto, Cargil and Archer Daniels Midland, and the main crops were corn, soy and wheat.

“Corn you can develop … into high-fructose corn syrup, which we’ll talk in the context of junk food,” White said. “In essence, we subsidize the production of a very cheap syrup, which then gets added to our foods.”

The use of that cheap syrup has skyrocketed over the past four decades.

“In 1970, it’s estimated that … we were using about half a pound per person per year of high-fructose corn syrup. In 1997, it was estimated that we use 62.5  pounds,” said Laura Robin, medical director at SOU’s Student Health and Wellness Center.

The change in diet has caused us to change, Robin said.

“We’ve changed a lot, and we wonder why we’re tired and having trouble losing weight,” she said.

“Obesity in the U.S. is the second leading cause of preventable death,” she said, adding that 27 percent of Americans in 2000 were obese.

The panelists balanced the troubling health statistics and questionable government subsidization programs with practical advice on avoiding the pitfalls of unhealthy eating.

Each panelists agreed that it is best to “shop on the parameter of the grocery store” and not to venture into the aisles where processed food is stocked.

Wendy Siporen, executive director of THRIVE, a local nonprofit that supports local farmers and a sustainable economy, said that farmers markets offer fresh, inexpensive and local foods and that they should be utilized.

“Support your local farmers,” she said. “The farmers markets are starting up a week from Tuesday, down in the Armory.”

OSPIRG’s Stop Subsidizing Junk Food campaign is an ongoing effort. Those interested in volunteering their time or services to the campaign should stop by their office in Room 308 in the Stevenson Union at 6:00 p.m. on Mondays.

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