Well, I survived my first listening session with the USDA today. Some may understand the headline from my tweets from the session. For those who missed it the word synergy was used way too often and in too many forms: synergy, synergism, synergistic. Unfortunately no one used the form a friend of mine invented on facebook… synergistic-expialidocious. Brilliant.
To top it all off a man who did NOT make it into the NBA who works for/is a motivational speaking group came down the aisle wearing a santa hat and carrying a smiley-faced basketball. He proceeded to treat all of us to what kids in gyms across America can barely sit still for… a motivational speaker.
I found many things interesting after listening to 20 people from a wide variety of organizations speak. The most interesting fact of all to me was that farmers were not represented at all. By all appearances farmers are not interested in ending childhood hunger or obesity (this was the main thrust of the session). I know this is not in fact the case. Real farmers were probably to busy doing real farming. So where were the groups that represent farmers? So, in my comments I pointed this out and shared some of my thoughts about the Farm Bill and what we do at World Hunger Relief. Here’s the highlight reel:
- Jeremy Everett of the Texas Hunger Initiative (and WHRI alum) gave a good big picture overview of their vision for bringing together existing federal, state and local resources and people to help them communicate, coordinate and organize their efforts for maximum impact. Basically the resources are already there to end hunger. We just need to get organized. Good thinking!
- A representative from Dairy Max a part of the National Dairy Council went on at length about the virtues of flavored milk in school cafeterias. Best moment of the day was when another lady said that there was as much sugar in a bottle of flavored milk as a soda.
- Best moment #2 was when someone from Texas Food Bank Network walked up with a grocery bag from the HEB down the street. He pulled out an organic apple and said this cost $1.75. Then he pulled out a bag of cheese puffs and said he paid $1.50. If I have $2 in my pocket and hungry kids in the back seat, which one am I going to buy?
- At least two people really wanted USDA to mount expensive media campaigns to deal with obesity. That is not a solution and does not work.
- One speaker suggested creating or at least discussing the possibility of a national school lunch menu. Interesting idea.
It was a good experience to see how something like this works. Though I am skeptical of government and bureaucracies ability to do good and make change, I also recognize that governments and bureaucracies consist of people who do not have hearts of stone. Listening sessions and town halls is what we need more of, not less. There should be room for disagreement over flavored milk (and other things) without resorting to hateful mischaracterizations and threatening speech. We’ve reached a fever pitch in our political discourse and I’m not sure what will bring us back to reality. I’m happy to report that at least one government listening session in these times was respectful. What it accomplishes has yet to be seen.