When Stephen Colbert has interviewed you once, you are considered a "friend of the show." But this was Tom Vilsack's first trip to the show since becoming Secretary of Agriculture. And even if Vilsack was a "friend of the show," Colbert didn't let up on important questions.
Colbert called Vilsack out on the contradiction about subsidizing cheap unhealthy food and encouraging kids to eat healthier.
"The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the United States government, we subsidize some of the industries that also produce the products that we don't want our kids to eat. You know, like fats in meats, sugars, extracted from corn, which is super, super cheap. Why do we subsidize those and then say to the kids, don't eat it? Why don't we just not subsidize it anymore. They won't make as much and it will be too expensive for kids to get?"
Vilsack talked about the safety net for farmers, that 90% of farmers are barely making it. And concentrating on having affordable food.
Farmers can grow other products besides corn and soybean if government policy changed. The farmers might make more money without the subsidy provisions. Now Vilsack is tying in this policy because we have to keep food cheap. But at what cost down the road?
Of course, Colbert had to bring up the tie-in with Dairy Management and another contradiction about promoting high-fat cheese while trying to get people to eat healthier.
Colbert: "There has been a little bit of controversy recently. The New York Times reported that while Mrs. Obama and the Department of Agriculture is telling kids, 'Hey, don't be obese,' they're also encouraging the increase of the consumption of cheese. I don't see a conflict there because I think that you could put melted cheese on any food and get me to eat it."
Vilsack: "Well, there's moderation in all things. You don't want to overdo a good thing."
We were hoping for better answers from Secretary Vilsack, but a lot of that reflected the mentality that the consumer isn't the most important element of the food chain, corporations still rule.
When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, there was hope that the USDA would rethink its approach. Under Vilsack, this doesn't seem likely to happen. The contradictions are still obvious, even if it takes a comedian to bring them to light.
Vilsack should do more publicity, especially with the bills in Congress. Maybe his answers will get better with more time, and an improved policy.
More on Part II: Vilsack on school lunches Friday on BalanceofFood.com.
Picture taken by me, but footage courtesy of Comedy Central.