Trade, hunger needs addressed by key guests at Food Summit

Sunday, April 15, 2018
Keynote speaker Michelle Book, CEO of Food Bank of Iowa, concluded the dialogue on hunger and food insecurity for the day
Photos by Elijah Decious

STORM LAKE — Dialogue at the Food Summit on Tuesday, April 10, was concluded by a panel of experts, including Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig and Michelle Book, CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa. Naig addressed questions about tariffs on pork and soybeans that have had an increasing urgency in recent weeks as the Trump administration doubles down on what could be a risky trade war with China. Book illustrated the face of hunger and dispelled negative stereotypes that affect our perceptions of need.

Naig stressed the necessity of addressing “festering” issues such as intellectual property protections and licensing with China, saying the U.S. needs to balance these with retaliation directed at agriculture industries.

“This is not a surprise to us,” Naig said of a 25 percent tariff that China slapped on American pork products at the beginning of April.

Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig spoke with Diana Carnitas, SLSD employee; Christine Prois, ISU Extension master gardener; Erika Dierking, Storm Lake School Board member; and Sonya Lesher.

When asked when the impact of pork tariffs would be felt by local companies, Naig downplayed the role of China in our overall trade picture.

“We exported about a billion dollars of pork to China last year. It’s a big number,” Naig said. “But you know what a really important market is? Japan. Mexico. We need to get a little perspective here. China’s important, but some of these other markets are very, very important to us.”

China is the United States’ largest market for agricultural exports. U.S. exports of agricultural products to China totaled $25.9 billion according to 2013 statistics from the office of the U.S. trade representative, with the leading category of exports being soybeans at $13.4 billion. Mexico and Japan are our third and fourth largest export markets for agricultural products, respectively. Canada is our second largest, though pork and soybeans are not high on Canada’s list of agricultural imports from the U.S.

Concluding the dialogue on hunger and food insecurity for the day was keynote speaker Michelle Book, CEO of the Food Bank of Iowa. Book illustrated the face of hunger in Iowa from her personal experience.

“We don’t have the ‘starving in Africa’ kind of hunger,” she said. “But what is prevalent is food insecurity.”

Food insecurity is defined as unreliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Among the 42 million Americans suffering from food insecurity, about 376,000 live in Iowa.

“People who are food insecure look like us,” Book said. They are not necessarily living under bridges in inner city areas, or struggling with addictions. They are predominantly white (as Iowa’s demographics are), and often are from rural areas. They work full-time, sometimes two or three jobs at minimum wage, but often still can not make ends meet, especially when combined with particular demands or struggles in life. Some are as far away from food insecurity as a flat tire that causes trouble at work when they are late for their shift. Some families lose income, without a source of replacement, when personal injury forces them out of work.”

Book also detailed food anxiety in food insecure households. Food anxiety sets in from the habits of long-term food insecurity, causing chronic health problems.

“When (food insecure people) have a few dollars and go to the grocery store, they get things like ramen,” Book explained. Those strapped for cash spend their limited money on cheap foods high in carbohydrates that will fill you up, because it is all they can get. “The quality of food diminishes before quantity disappears.”

Lifelong eating habits are learned this way, and a lifetime of forced habits leads to obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among a plethora of issues.

People suffering from food insecurity or who rely on assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) are rarely the “welfare queen” stereotype that has been perpetuated since the Reagan administration and are rarely hungry by choice, according to experts throughout the day. But the negative images that persist continue to impact the farm bill, which includes both SNAP and agricultural program funding, due to a breakdown in negotiations partly caused by increased, unnecessary scrutiny on SNAP recipients.

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