Patience, everyone. It's almost over.
As Obama and McCain relentlessly feint and parry towards Tuesday, has any word been volleyed more often than "taxes"? Whether your taxes are, not to mention will be, lowered, raised, leveraged, undercut, overspent, distributed, re-distributed, undistributed or even, perhaps, unpaid, it's important to remember the basic fact that taxes fund government. This includes departments, agencies, entities and initiatives concerning food, from growing it to cooking it to eating it. With election day finally ascendant, isn't it time to check in on some of the entities supported by public funds, to see what we're paying for?
The United States Department of Agriculture oversees most of the programs and services relevant to food. As with all Federal departments, numerous agencies fold into the USDA and information about them is collected on its labyrinthine website. To begin with, your food has to come from somewhere, and ranchers, farmers and online learners can avail themselves of numerous resources: learning about crops (including indigeonous plants) and soil, pricing and farm support, and farmed animals from livestock to fish. If you're feeling especially nerdy, Data and Statistics offers a compendium of domestic and international data covering everything from markets and trade to food safety and consumption. Especially interesting is a section on organics that includes the criteria for certification and resources to learn about growing and harvesting methods that qualify.
In the kitchen, the USDA addresses topics from nutrition to safety. The show-stopping Nutrition.gov offers a variety of nutrition resources, including an easily understood food pyramid and additional, and just as easily understood, nutrition guidelines, an online nutrient/calorie tool, and even information on and links to nutrition assistance programs. The Food Safety and Inspection Service can teach you how to read food labels, as well as print a variety of online fact sheets that include everything from party planning to the safe preparation and handling of your holiday turkey. If you've got any late-year canning to do, or want to print a stack of PDF's to read during the long winter nights ahead, the National Center for Home Food Preservation has been working on your behalf. FInally, your kitchen is not complete without a downloadable Kitchen Companion.
Whichever side of the fence you are on, don't just sit on it -- vote. Aftewards, you can wow everyone at the election viewing party with the fact that you can not only name the current United States Secretary of Agriculture -- you know what he and his staff have been doing with our money while we paid their salaries.