Mike Madriaga 11 a.m., May 21
Food and Politics - The Oil Spill and You (A Rant)
A few weeks ago I got a pretty snippy message on the food website telling me to keep my nose out of politics and stick to telling readers where to eat or not. I might have answered, "Well, why don't you just go to Yelp?" but didn't -- but it did sting.
I love looking at larger food issues, incorporating them into the framework of the "eat here, not there" review. Food IS politics, and vice versa. For instance, high-fructose corn syrup in everything you can buy in the supermarket (except fresh meat and produce)? You can blame that on Senators and Reps from the corn-growing states,the powerful agribiz lobby that heavily funds their election campaigns -- and hence the huge subsidies we the taxpayers pay to corn-growers, who can then sell their products dirt-cheap subvented by our very own wallets. Sugar's a bit spendy, HFCS is cheap as sh-t. Suddenly, everything we eat is sweet. Are we fat enough yet?
The latest political scandal in food is the Gulf oil spill. Watch for the price of shrimps and crabs to skyrocket, and possibly the quality to go down, with more reliance on farm-raised Asian shrimp, less on fresh sweet Gulf shrimp. (We don't get a lot of Apalachicola oysters on the coast, so oyster prices will change more subtly if at all.)
What does politics have to do with this? Sorry, gotta point a finger at Bushie once again, probably the worst administration we've had since Warren G. Harding (nah, Bush was worse than Mr. Teapot Dome, who was merely corrupt, not so harmful.) Bush BELIEVED in (or was owned by) big corporate interests and his aim (with the urging of Darth Cheney) was to reduce government oversight to a total minimum. His view of government was, apparently, that its main role was to serve not the people but the corporations. The ultimate in trickle-down theory.
One of the government agencies where his dark hand was felt most was deep inside the Interior Department, in Minerals and Mining. It's now notorious how Bush appointees/hires/puppets in that department not only played ball with the oil companies, but instead of regulating them in the least, enjoyed sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll with oil company lobbyists. They were no longer watchdogs for the public's good, they were irrresponsible frat boys taking bribes and having a grand old time. And they rubber-stamped BP's very sketchy (literally sketchy!) and debatable plans for deep-sea drilling. Even after the change in administrations, the plans proceeded along unstoppably like some sci-fi behemoth monster. While BP got tax breaks!!!!
It was a rotten, corrupt agency, with the problems not just structural but ideological -- that is, political, with a "hands off big business!" approach. It would be asking too much for any appointee at Interior to have cleaned out the cesspool in one year.. Nonetheless, I was deadly disappointed that Obama chose Ken Salazar, a nice guy but a weak sister, when we need some Clint Eastwood of environmentalism and clean government.. There was only one man right for the job of head of Interior -- That would be Jim Hightower, former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, who encouraged organic family farms at the expense of agribiz during his term, and remains an outspoken voice for the people (and the eaters) of America. This is no cautious bureaucrat like Salazar. Maybe he would have made a difference. Maybe he would have committed suicide (more likely quit) in the face of bureaucratic intransigeancy. But I think his fine brain and intestinal fortitude would have figured out where to go first in Interior, and that he would have jumped in feet first into the utterly corrupt morass of Minerals and Mining. .
(By the way, everybody hates "civil service bureaucrats" lately -- people who get their jobs by taking exams -- and then plug away, some better, some worse, for the rest of their working lives. A lot of people seem to think that contracting out is a better idea. Well, at M&M, without knowing the inside story, looks to me like appointees took the place of most of those lowly, plug-along civil servants, and here's what we got from it. Contracting out? Probably even worse, with no accountability at all. Think: Blackhawk! Not to mention Halliburton, Bechtel, etc., making a mess and overcharging we the taxpayers on their Iraq rebuilding contracts.)
The tragedy of the oil-spill goes well beyong the price of shrimp in San Diego. I don't need to tell you the details, they're in your daily paper (even the UT actually gives it some coverage.) You know about the ecological and human disaster along the Gulf. But if you think it's far away from here -- wrong! We're all going to eat that catastrophe. Don't think food coverage should be political? Well, enjoy your mushy, polluted frozen shrimp!