Talking With Dylan Ratigan

Dylan Ratigan grew up in a family that was focused on food—"I've got Italian blood," he explains—and his first jobs were in restaurants. But the host of MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show, which airs weekdays from 4-5 p.m. (Eastern), now focuses on food in a different way: as a political issue.

The former host of Fast Money has a background in finance as well as food, and these topics have a way of entering into the political discourse he has with guests, who've included anyone who's anyone in Washington DC, as well as the occasional chef and celebrity.

Ratigan came out from behind the host chair to talk to Food Republic about why "food is the single most important issue" in politics, among other things.

Why is the politics of food so urgent now?

Nothing is more important to the safety and security of our country or globally than food. And there are many threats.

What are the primary threats?

The whole system is problematic. What we have right now is the prodification of food. Food is more valued as a product and for the profit it creates than for its nutritional value. If the priority is profit not food, well, profit is political. It changes the ways decisions get made, it influences who our poiltical leaders are.

How does food choose our leaders?

You have to look at corn and the American government. It's a perfect example of how our system has changed the value of food and how that can influence our politics. If you look at corn as a simple food product, it's great. In terms of nutritional value, taste enjoyment, i love corn.

But If you look at the way that we grow corn as a commodity, it is completely divorced from that; it supplants the natural food supply. Let me be clear: Corn itself is not evil, the decision to develop corn as a purely profitable commodity is.

Corn is particularly important because of Iowa and the place that it holds in the political primaries. I dare you to go against corn as a presidential candidate. Iowa doesn't decide who becomes president, but the flow of capital to candidates is directly related to those early primaries, and so going against the corn industry is almost never going to happen. The fact that corn is polluting our food supply is never going to be addressed in this political forum.

How does food affect global security?

Food is central to security. Look no further than Egypt to understand how food can undermine security. How did Egypt get so entangled in the global food market? It all goes back to corn. The U.S. subsidies for growing corn have unintended implications for the larger world. Subsidized crops are sold on the global market. Say I'm an Egyptian farmer, I can't compete with the low cost of subsidized grains.

These countries become agriculture-free zones. When the price of corn or wheat or soy goes up, there is no domestic alternative. Many people in the world are living on less than $2 a day; if food prices go up 40 percent, they can't feed their families. People who will not protest over abstract political ideals will take to the streets when they can't feed their families.

Are there any solutions?

The solution begins with our own personal resolve. We can't push the blame on others and say, "It's out of my control, if only there weren't corn subsidies." We have to examine our own willingness to accept things that have diminished nutritional value. We have to take responsibility in the way that we eat personally. We need to make conscious decisions to eat local and to eat better. We need to remember the seasonal delights and pleasures of a perfect ripe peach. The situation is ripe with opportunities and excitement.

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