When Tyson Foods says it’s “feeding you like family,” we recently learned that it and the rest of America’s Big Meat members sometimes need a war-like White House declaration just to cut a fat hog.
More striking than the order itself was its effect: it didn’t work.
A week after President Donald J. Trump ordered all meatpacking employees nationwide back to work in the middle of the pandemic, Tyson’s pork slaughtering facilities fell to 50% capacity, reported the Washington Post May 4.
As that drama played out, Jake and Dawn Trethewey continued to plant their fifteenth crop of certified organic produce to — get this — actually feed dozens of families and hundreds of people near their Chagrin Falls, Ohio, farm. Better yet, their subscriber numbers continue to climb for 2020.
“I sent 30 emails for people to sign up a couple of weeks ago,” Jake relates in a telephone interview, “and I got back 34 replies for our weekly box. Thirty-four out of 30, that’s a first.”
He isn’t alone. It’s been a year of firsts for many Americans hoping to keep pantries stocked and refrigerators full while the majority of the nation remains under stay-at-home orders.
“Big” isn’t working
As last week’s column documented, it’s also been a chain-breaking year for Big Ag and Big Food. Their go-to remedy for most problems — go bigger or go home — can’t outmuscle today’s merciless, deadly virus.
It’s also been a humbling few months for government. Its usual prescription, a conveyor belt of money, is now running full throttle just to buy the baling wire and bubblegum necessary to hold together a badly broken food system that needs to refocus as much as reform.
For example, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue finally has the money, about $300 million per month, to implement his oft-rejected “Harvest Box” idea. Perdue claims it will prop up prices received by farmers and ranchers because it will buy commodities to then box and give away to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, recipients.
Congress has rejected Perdue’s past attempts to install the program for several reasons. The key reason being redundancy. SNAP is an efficient, effective and, according to Forbes, a 99% fraud-free program that delivers food aid to every community in the U.S.
Even better, SNAP has no boxes, trucks or spoilage.
Under Perdue’s COVID-fueled plan, however, USDA will buy meat from packing plants that are half-shuttered as well as from other food wholesalers hundreds of miles from where it’s needed to then truck to schools that are closed and food pantries — without the increased facilities necessary to cool, store and package it — that are now operating with virus-clipped, primarily volunteer staffs.
In short, it’s a “solution” that worsens today’s distribution problems.
A far better fix would be for Congress to order USDA to take the billions Perdue’s complex program will cost and just add the money to existing SNAP accounts so hungry, poor Americans can buy the food they actually need.
Congress can also order USDA to streamline the SNAP application process so even more Americans can get temporary, pre-loaded cards — say, in amounts of $50, $100 or $200 — to use at local markets for local food.
Also, Congress should permit every SNAP cardholder the option of ordering and paying for home-delivered food online without penalty. Today’s state-by-state authority is an outdated, bureaucratic mess.
None of these steps involves boxes, trucks or spoilage and each promises more food will get to more people in more places more easily. Better yet, local food creates local jobs — something every community, rural and urban, desperately needs now.
If you think it’s too good to be true, remember, we’re already doing it. In fact, Jake and Dawn Trethewey have been feeding their local community since 2005 because they know it takes a family to feed you like family.
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