I have just returned from three days in Disney theme parks in Orlando. (No snarky jokes please, at least not from those of you who have yet to push a human out of your nether regions only to discover that children now emerge from the womb begging for a trip to Disney World.)
Disney is a fascinating place, as detailed by Seth Stevenson’s terrific recent story in Slate. One thing is certain: though: you walk through those gates and you expect marketing. You expect princesses. You expect pirates. You expect Winnie the Pooh dolls and hats with ears and people offering you timeshares so you can spend even more of your free time with the Belle and Ariel.
You don't, however, expect advertisements for our broken agricultural policy.
Oh, but you get them. Among the dizzying number of Things to Do while at Disney is to visit Epcot Center’s Innoventions plaza. To children, Innoventions looks like a wing at a science museum, with hands-on, interactive games and activities. To a slightly more cynical eye, it looks a bit like, um,
prostitution a huge exhibition hall filled with the best marketing efforts of companies like Waste Management, Liberty Mutual, IBM, and the Society of Plastics. One such exhibit, The Great American Farm, is proudly sponsored by the Farm Bureau, the self-described voice of American agriculture.
The Farm Bureau’s exhibit was designed to help Americans think more about the connection between agriculture and the food on the table — an admirable, Ethicurean-friendly goal, to be sure. It includes the Great American Pizza game, a memory-style matching game where families can compete to see who can remember what pizza ingredients are grown in which state. There are booster-ish messages promoting corn’s role in biofuels. There’s a demonstration on biotechnology that deserves its very own post (oh, that’s coming...).
Today, though, let’s talk about the Farm Bureau’s simple touch-screen video game. The game displays cartoon images of major commodities crops and other agribusiness products (corn, soy, cotton, cows, or pigs). You choose one, and then watch as the product is dropped into a machine. That machine loads three images, jackpot style, and you guess which of those items is made from the crop you chose. Take corn, for example. Drop corn into the machine, you get to choose which of three items is made from corn. Your options: a dress, a glass, or a golf tee.
Hold on a moment. I thought this exhibition was to help me connect the farm with my food. Yet the options are a dress, a glass, or a golf tee. Huh.
A reminder at this point that corn is one of the U.S. commodity crops under the farm bill, which means that tax dollars — my tax dollars, and many of yours — subsidize corn. The Farm Bureau supports unlimited subsidy payments, even when that means $8 million checks to large businesses. These subsidies make corn and all the products that stem from it — from high fructose corn syrup, to E. coli-promoting cattle feed (PDF), to Cheetos — artificially cheap.
Apparently those artificially cheap products also include either a dress, a glass, or a golf tee. But which one? Let’s take a look at the answer.
It’s not a dress…
It’s not a glass…
…Biodegradable golf tees! That is so exciting! I'm really very, very glad that my tax dollars are going toward golf tees. Because, you know, I've met some golfers. And they need the help. All those polo shirts...the 9-irons...the five-to-six-figure costs of joining a golf club. These things add up. So, yes. Let’s definitely subsidize golf tees.
Can you guess the biggest client of biodegradable golf tees? It's Disney! Apparently Disney’s use of the product has the potential to save the company money on the maintenance crews that would otherwise have to pick up the pesky little objects. Now I am really feeling good. I handed over an obscene amount of money to be here at Disney, it’s good to know that my tax dollars are also helping to defray Disney's maintenance costs.
You can learn other things from the video game, such as how marshmallows — hardly a reliable source of nutrition — are made from soy:
The whole thing may get you wondering, "Isn't this exhibition supposed to be about how American agriculture is connected to American foods?" Not confections, not sports accessories. Food. And then you remember: 77% of the edible products in American grocery stores contain no nutritional value. Just like marshmallows. And, well, like golf tees.
Huh. Maybe the exhibition makes the American agriculture-food connection pretty well after all.