One is the "trade down" as struggling families choose not to spend an extra $2 per half gallon for local, organic, farmer friendly milk. There's substantial evidence that the price differential hurts many small growers. The same effect is being noticed in vegetables, etc.
The other obstacle is Congress. Although the President has endorsed broad reform, and proposed bills which would would overhaul the US agriculture system, many members of congress have different interests.
Still, some activists worry that their dreams of a less-processed American diet may soon collide with the realities of Washington and the financial gloom over much of the country. Even the Bush administration, reviled by many food activists, came to Washington intent on reforming farm subsidies, only to be slapped down by Congress.
Mr. Pollan, who contributes to The New York Times Magazine, likens sustainable-food activists to the environmental movement in the 1970s. Though encouraged by the Obama administration’s positions, he worries that food activists may lack political savvy.
“The movement is not ready for prime time,” he says. “It’s not like we have an infrastructure with legislation ready to go.”
Even so, many activists say they are packing their bags and heading to Washington. They are bringing along a copy of “Food Inc.,” which includes attacks on the corn lobby and Monsanto, and intend to provide a private screening for Mr. Vilsack and Ms. Merrigan.
“We are so used to being outside the door,” says Walter Robb, co-president and chief operating officer of Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain that played a crucial role in making organic and natural food more mainstream. “We are in the door now.”
AT the heart of the sustainable-food movement is a belief that America has become efficient at producing cheap, abundant food that profits corporations and agribusiness, but is unhealthy and bad for the environment.
The federal government is culpable, the activists say, because it pays farmers billions in subsidies each year for growing grains and soybeans. A result is an abundance of corn and soybeans that provide cheap feed for livestock and inexpensive food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.
They argue that farm policy — and federal dollars — should instead encourage farmers to grow more diverse crops, reward conservation practices and promote local food networks that rely less on fossil fuels for such things as fertilizer and transportation.
Last year, mandatory spending on farm subsidies was $7.5 billion, compared with $15 million for programs for organic and local foods, according to the House Appropriations Committee.