Repeat after me: state regulation is always a sane and desirable thing…
WHETHER the obscure statute that governs America’s raisin trade is constitutional, Elena Kagan is not sure. She and her fellow Supreme Court justices are pondering that question at the moment, and will rule shortly. But she sounds reasonably confident that the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937 is “the world’s most outdated law”.
Since the 1940s raisin farmers have been obliged to make over a portion of their crop to a government agency called the Raisin Administrative Committee. The committee, run by 47 raisin farmers and packers, along with a sole member of the raisin-eating public, decides each year how many raisins the domestic market can bear, and thus how many it should siphon off to preserve an “orderly” market. It does not pay for the raisins it appropriates, and gives many of them away, while selling others for export. Once it has covered its own costs, it returns whatever profits remain to farmers. In some years there are none. Worse, farmers sometimes forfeit a substantial share of their crop: 47% in 2003 and 30% in 2004, for example.
Participation in this Brezhnevite scheme is mandatory. […]
But there is an unpalatable truth to face for those of us with a bag of quinoa in the larder. The appetite of countries such as ours for this grain has pushed up prices to such an extent that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia, for whom it was once a nourishing staple food, can no longer afford to eat it. Imported junk food is cheaper. In Lima, quinoa now costs more than chicken. Outside the cities, and fuelled by overseas demand, the pressure is on to turn land that once produced a portfolio of diverse crops into quinoa monoculture.
As sure as day follows night, if the subject of food is mentioned at all, it will inevitably touch on the debate between processed and cooked from fresh food in the UK today. And unless you know everyone in the discussion well and get side tracked into swapping recipes or discussing one’s favourite deli, someone will take the chance to opine on how poor people just need to try harder, be less lazy, just read the labels and realise you can buy a week’s veg for two quid if you’re a good enough member of society. These people are at best out of touch and at worst, running our country.
They are also idiots and liars. What you eat may have an impact on your dietary fibre, but it has bugger all to do with your moral fibre. It’s patronising and reductive to suggest otherwise and to focus on the actions of an individual, rather than those of the food industry, helps no one and hinders many, while causing massive divisions in society. But what would I know? I’m a nice middle class food blogger who grew up on homemade yoghurt and makes their own bacon. Surely I’m part of the problem?
I’m also poor. Not in a pretend can’t afford to split the bill including cocktails for a friend’s birthday or using Orange Wednesday vouchers for Pizza Express way. I’m properly poor. Due to ill health that stretches back to my early teens, I’m currently unable to work and live on benefits. Thanks to the welfare state (for which I could not be more grateful) I have the basic amount of money to live on each week and do just that. I can afford to live and eat well enough to write about it once a week simply due to careful budgeting, being a good and resourceful cook, having time and the generosity of friends and family who shout me lunch and bring wine to dinner. If you buy one Starbucks medium latte a day, picking up a muffin even once, you spend the same in a week as my entire food budget for 7 days. I think this qualifies me to talk about cooking and eating on a long term low income rather than a summer between uni where you have to make money stretch.