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A Checklist for Evaluating the New USDA’s First Six Months

February 3, 2009

If there’s one attack that’s leveled at the sustainable food movement more than elitist, it’s that it lacks a clear message. It does seem inconveniently appropriate that a social movement that touches on something so universal and human as eating would have difficulty coalescing into the kind of spearpoint wielded by lobbies with a simple, straightforward agenda, but the criticism does stand.

With that in mind, the ethicurean has released a set of very specific, achievable goals that the sustainable food movement can use to measure up the kind of job Obama’s USDA has been doing. We’ve seen this kind of thing in sorts of forms before, notably in Michael Pollan’s open letter to the next president, but this list has the advantage of being targeted much more specifically, namely at new secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack.

There isn’t much to argue with on the list -“Start protecting us from food gone wrong,” “Stop using our kids as the nation’s garbage disposal,” “Level the pasture for small farmers and ranchers,” etc, and it runs the gambit nicely from broad, sweeping statements to the policies that could help enact them.

The “checklist” itself, contrary to the idea of a checklist, does not contain anything that can really be checked off. Six months from now, we’ll be hard pressed to look at this and say “usher in a new era of conservation?” check. moving on. The explanations of each item are where the ethicurean’s list begins to answer some of the criticisms made by people like the Washington Post’s Jane Black. For example, under “new era of conservation,” we have more helpful policy choices such as “Instruct the Natural Resources Conservation Service to analyze and make public the data on use of EQIP by large, industrial livestock operations.” Sounds just jargony enough for Washington.

The Ethicurean

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