Beet Still My Heart: A Valentine Message for the USDA

February 13, 2014
Karen Perry Stillerman
Sr. Strategist and Sr. Analyst, Food & Environment Program

When I was a little kid, I loved those candy “conversation hearts” we exchanged on Valentine’s Day. I always wanted the ones that said “Be Mine” and (most exciting) “Kiss Me”. Those little treats are still fun—though they look a bit different today, emblazoned as they are with previously unknown sentiments including “Text Me” and “LOL”. But this Valentine’s Day, I’m thinking less about heart-shaped candy, and more about my actual heart (and yours), and what they need to beat long into the future.

Getting to the heart of the matter

Be still, my beet-ing heart. CC image courtesy of Mark Knobil/flickr.

CC image courtesy of Mark Knobil/flickr.

We’ve all heard (like a million times) that we should eat more fruits and vegetables to keep our hearts in tip-top shape. Every list of heart-healthy foods includes a long inventory of produce items, from apples to zucchini.

But last summer, UCS released a groundbreaking report that examined what would happen if Americans actually ate the federally recommended daily amount of fruit (2 cups for the average adult) and vegetables (2.5 cups). Our analysis found that this would save more than 127,000 lives and $17 billion in health care costs associated with heart disease and stroke each year. (See our report and video for all the details.)

So how do we get there? A good and timely step would be for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to adopt food and farm policies that prioritize heart-healthy fruits and vegetables instead of junk food.

Hey, USDA…put our money where your mouth is

Bless their hearts, the good folks at the USDA mean well. A few years ago, they developed the MyPlate logo and website to make dietary guidelines easier for all Americans to understand and translate into action. And this week, USDA bloggers put out a Valentine message urging lovers to prepare a heart-healthy meal together instead of trading boxes of candy.

But for decades, the USDA and Congress have ignored their own advice to load up on fruits and vegetables. Instead, they have poured billions of taxpayer dollars into subsidies and research that actually encourages farmers to grow more junk food ingredients. (Check out our infographic to see what that looks like.)

In a post earlier this week, I highlighted the best parts of the newly-passed Farm Bill, which—I admit—still includes all those unhealthy subsidies (just in a different form). But happily, it also includes renewed or increased funding for programs that incentivize farmers across the country to grow fruits and vegetables, and those that help consumers at all income levels buy those healthy foods for their families.

That new Farm Bill just landed on the desk of the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who is in charge of directing how these programs are carried out. So now is the time to tell him how you think he should spend those dollars.

Pour your heart out (to USDA Secretary Vilsack)

This Valentine’s Day, UCS has created a set of fun e-Valentines you can send to Secretary Vilsack. Let’s flood his mailbox with messages expressing our love for healthy food and asking him to maximize the heart-health potential of Farm Bill programs. Choose and send your Valentine—and tell a friend—today!

Your heart will thank you for it.