Politics is a strangely inefficient way of trying to get things done. There's a lot of talking, a lot of promises made, and a "do you really want to know what's in the sausage?" method that takes policy from the idea stage to action on the ground.
Often the policy goal is left in the rubble along the way or is so transformed that it's unrecognizable. And, as anyone who's been involved in either politics or business knows, inevitably "unintended consequences" emerge. These are the results of a proposed action - either good or bad - that were not anticipated.
Prohibition in the U.S. is a perfect example: the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating beverages but did not outlaw the possession or consumption of alcohol. Not only did this result in nation-wide job loss - of breweries, barrel-making, distribution, and retail sales workers - but alcohol production and consumption just went underground.
Bootleggers and home-brewers sold their wares on the Black Market or at newly opened "pharmacies" which allowed the prescription of whiskey for everything from anxiety to the flu. Eventually the amendment was dumped.
In a more recent example, the requirement for auto airbags led to an increase in childhood deaths, as small kids in the passenger seat were being hit by airbags during collisions. The proposed solution - moving child seats to the backseat - has now meant an increase in the number of children forgotten in vehicles, many who die in extreme summer heat. (We've read about several of these heartbreaks lately.)
Anyway, you get the idea. We humans think we're so wily, but we can't really control the world around us (see also Murphy's Law).
Trade war, tariffs and food banks
This is simply background info - so stay with me here. The White House's trade war with China has meant that as Trump misguidedly imposes tariffs on Chinese products, China has imposed retaliatory tariffs on our wares; which means 1) the prices we pay for Chinese-manufactured goods have increased and 2) fewer US products are being sold into their markets. This has resulted in our farmers exporting fewer products. To compensate, a Trade Mitigation Program (TMP) pays farmers for some of their unsold products.
In a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting program "Think Out Loud," Jeff Kleen, Oregon food banks public policy advocate, says, "Farmers have seen a steep decline in demand for their products because of tariffs being applied. Last year the Trump administration announced assistance of $12 billion - largely direct payments to farmers; $1.4 billion of that went to purchasing food. When there are surplus products, the USDA will purchase and distribute them through the food bank network. Sadly, there is a high demand for food assistance." (Listen here: https://tinyurl.com/y2oxjod7)
Benefits to local food banks
There are lots of organizations (and acronyms!) involved - Trade Mitigation Program (TMP),The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), U.S. Food Bank Network, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington Food Coalition, and others - but one result is that extra food stuffs have been arriving at the doors of our Peninsula food banks.
As Ocean Park food bank director Michael Goldberg confirms, "We've been getting extra food supplies for several months now as part of the TMP. We've gotten gallons of fresh milk that we've never gotten before."
"We get our food delivered from Coastal Harvest and - well, let me look up deliveries - in April we got potatoes, split pea soup, fruit and nut mixes, orange juice, rice. Then in May we got garbanzo beans, ham and frozen pork, pulled pork, six cases of apples, pork taco filling - which is something we've never gotten before. In June we got kidney beans, cranberries, brown rice, walnut pieces, fresh oranges, boneless pork chops, pork patties, eight cases of apples. This is food we wouldn't ordinarily be getting."
Generally food bank donations are canned or dried products, so having fresh produce, meat, and milk is a real bonus. Michael notes that most families have to buy these groceries to augment their food-bank supplies.
Rachel Gana, Ilwaco food bank director, agrees, "Yes, we've gotten more meat and pork products, even beef roasts, and chicken, which is really good. And everything has been very good quality. This has been coming through the USDA commodities program, and we have to keep track of it separately." (Ilwaco food bank is open the 2nd and 4th Fridays.)
Kathy Hughes, now director of the Chinook food bank (open at the back of the Chinook School the 1st and 3rd Thursdays), says that for some reason they did not originally sign up for the commodities program before applications closed. "The extra supplies other food banks are receiving is wonderful for them - I'm envious! But we get other support and donations and we buy food to fill in the blanks. We've also been receiving fresh fruit and vegetables from the state prison garden [Stafford Creek Corrections Center]. People light up like light bulbs when they see fresh lettuce, kohlrabi, apples, and cabbage."
Sharon Thornberry, rural communities liaison for the Oregon food banks and interim director of the Columbia Gorge food bank, comments ("Think Out Loud,"), "The food bank system is largely volunteer especially in rural communities. We don't run seven days a week as local groceries stores do, so fresh products - especially something as perishable as milk - present both distribution and food safety challenges. We have to be very careful that we're distributing this food in a timely manner. We want to make sure that we're also preserving people's health while we're preserving their nutrition."
Thankfully, timely distribution of fresh food has never been a problem for our local food banks.
Help still needed
Despite this unexpected food bonus, there are other challenges ahead. As an example of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, the White House is threatening to change who currently qualifies for food stamps (officially called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP).
According to food security non-profit Feeding America, the proposed changes could mean that three million Americans now on food stamps might be cut off. I don't have figures for how many Pacific County citizens might be affected, but Kathy says of the changes, "Oh, there will be a huge effect if food stamps are cut. We'll be inundated with new clients." And Kleen indicates that 66,000 Oregon citizens could be denied this benefit. This is an issue to keep our eyes on.
In terms of current needs, Michael indicates that more volunteers to assist in Ocean Park would be great. "We have a large staff turnover as some volunteers are only here for the summer. Also we have drivers that deliver food twice a month or pick up supplies at Safeway in Astoria. Extra help is always appreciated."
You could also help by participating in the "Green Bags" program. These bags are distributed and picked up twice monthly by Ocean Park food bank staff. Fill your bag with non-perishable foodstuffs and simply put it on your doorstep for pick-up. (For more information call Michael at 360-244-3969 or 360-665-6567.)
Tariff wars with our international trading partners are not the best way to ensure that our neighbors have enough to eat. Yes, this side benefit has been welcome, but we should be demanding more transparency on the real effects of U.S. policies.