Department of Food? What’s in a name?

You just can’t escape it – the importance of food is a subject on everyone’s lips. On Wednesday, in the New York Times, native-son (he’s from Yamhill!) Nicholas Kristoff railed against the status-quo at the USDA. In anticipation of Obama’s upcoming Secretary of Agriculture announcement, Kristoff wrote that during the last few administrations, oversight of the USDA has been neatly passed off to large ag corporations. The short story is that we’ve ended up with a Department of Agriculture that cares little about the environmental, social, and cultural values of what we grow and what we eat.

According to Kristoff,

The most powerful signal Mr. Obama could send would be to name a reformer to a renamed position. A former secretary of agriculture, John Block, said publicly the other day that the agency should be renamed “the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry.” And another, Ann Veneman, told me that she believes it should be renamed, “Department of Food and Agriculture.”

His point raises a great question: is it possible that how we talk about agriculture in this country could significantly change what we do about its problems? Has the disconnect between large-scale agribusiness and farmers become so great that we no longer associate agriculture with food? Do we need to re-assert this vital connection? To do so might prove to be a powerful symbol.

Once you’ve had a chance to read Kristoff’s piece, make sure to sign the Food Democracy Now petition to let President-Elect Obama know your opinions on his agricultural appointments. With over 19,000 signatures already, the petitions pulls together a strong, six-person shortlist of potential candidates for the Secretary of Agriculture.

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