Andrés, Stenzel offer ideas for the next farm bill |

Andrés, Stenzel offer ideas for the next farm bill

José Andrés, the chef, restaurant owner and founder of World Central Kitchen, and United Fresh Produce Association President and CEO Tom Stenzel offered ideas on how the next farm bill could be different from those in the past during a Wednesday webinar on hunger and nutrition sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

After Agriculture Department Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Pam Miller explained current nutrition programs and the Trump administration’s efforts to feed people during the coronavirus pandemic, Andrés said that officials also say that programs are “going well” but that “in the streets it is different.”

With these programs, Andrés added, “why do we have food lines in the United States?”

Andrés noted that in North Carolina, where World Central Kitchen fed people after the hurricanes, areas where pigs were raised were covered in manure.

The U.S. food system needs to be changed so that such situations do not occur in food production and so that food deserts are eliminated, waterways are not contaminated and all children have plates of food that include fruits and vegetables, Andrés said. Workers need to be treated properly and there needs to be immigration reform, he added.

“We need a U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture” and an agriculture specialist needs to be “at the side of the president on the National Security Council.”

Andrés said that the current system of farm subsidies that go mostly to corn, soybean and wheat growers, is making it possible for fast-food restaurants to thrive because they get commodities cheaply. He suggested that the production of fruits and vegetables should be subsidized.

Stenzel said he agreed that the subsidy system should be changed and some of the current subsidies shifted to other spending.

But fruit and vegetable growers have never expressed interest in direct subsidies and Stenzel said reallocating farm subsidies “is not a matter of shifting the subsidy to my farmers.”

Stenzel said that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits should be increased so that people can afford to buy more fruits and vegetables and that wholesalers and others in the distribution chain also need help.

“We could double fruit and vegetable production fairly easily” but getting them in the hands of consumers is more complicated, Stenzel said. The shutdown of restaurants has been terrible for distributors as well as the restaurants, he said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who moderated the program, tried to shift the conversation from hunger to nutrition quality, but Joni Holifield, the founder and president of HeartSmiles, a Baltimore group, said it is impossible for low-income people to think about nutrition quality when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Food Research & Action Center President Luis Guardia noted that hunger problems have been longstanding in the United States.

Stenzel noted that the United Fresh Produce Foundation had given 6,000 salad bars to school, but in light of COVID-19 safety concerns, his member companies have shifted to single-serve portions for the school meals programs.

Stenzel said some nutrition money should be “targeted” to certain purchases, a view that Glickman said he endorses but that is controversial among anti-hunger advocates.

Andrés was critical of the way meat plant workers have been treated, but John Tyson, the chief sustainability officer for Tyson Foods, said the company is proud of the way it has improved conditions for its employees amidst the coronavirus pandemic.