According to the US Public Interest Research Group (as cited by the Huffington Post), a huge majority of produce subsidies go to the manufacture of artificial sweeteners and junk food.
According to the study, a whopping $17 billion of the total $260 billion the government spent subsidizing agriculture went to just four common food addititives: corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and soy oils. By comparison, the government spent just $261 million subsidizing apples,
and far less still supporting fruits and vegetables, like spinach, broccoli and blueberries, that public health experts say encourage better health.
They go on to say,
This is a key factor that makes junk food [cheaper] than healthy food — and, by extension, that makes many Americans obese.
And while that’s shocking enough, here’s a pretty awesome chart I found a while back:
Look at this: Nearly 85% of all food subsidies go to meat, dairy, oils, starches and alcohol, whereas less than half of a percent go to fruits and vegetables. Do you want to know why we have an obesity epidemic? Want to know why apples are more expensive than twinkies? Want to explain McDonald’s dollar menu? Here you go.
I once was chided as a conspiracy theorist because my response to the (extremely tired) argument of “healthy food is too expensive,” was that unhealthy food was not inherently cheaper, but it was just heavily subsidized. This isn’t a conspiracy. Look at the chart.
So the next time a haughty-taughty Michael Pollan worshiper tries to tell you that vegetarianism is not accessible across class-lines, tell them to look at the chart. The next time your coworker tells you “vegetarianism works for you, but not all of us can afford organic arugula every night,” tell them to look at the chart. The next time your school lunch person gets mad because they can’t afford to include vegetarian options, tell them to look at the chart. The next time your Tea Party Uncle calls you a socialist hippy for not eating meat, tell him to look at the chart.
The problem isn’t the food. It’s the policy. It’s something we can (theoretically) change.