The folks at the Department of Agriculture laid on a friendly welcome for the Trump transition team, but they soon discovered that most of his appointees were stunningly unqualified. With key U.S.D.A. programs—from food stamps to meat inspection, to grants and loans for rural development, to school lunches—under siege, the agency’s greatest problem is that even the people it helps most don’t know what it does.
Ali Zaidi was five years old when his parents moved him from Pakistan to the United States, in 1993. Later he’d marvel at American parents who agonized over the trauma that some trivial relocation—say, from Manhattan to Greenwich, Connecticut—might inflict upon their children. His parents might as well have put him in a rocket and shot him to the moon and no one made any fuss at all about it. His father wanted to study educational administration (“He loved the idea of helping to run the places people came to learn”), and the one place he knew someone willing to teach him worked at Edinboro University, in northwest Pennsylvania. And so the Zaidis left Karachi, a city of more than eight million Muslims, for a rural town of 7,000 Christians. “We went from solidly upper-middle-class to trying to reach into the middle class,” recalls Ali. The people in Edinboro didn’t have a lot of money, but Ali sensed that his family had less of it than most. “The other kids pay a dollar-fifty for school lunch and you pay 50 cents—you know something is going on, but you don’t really know what.” There was no particular reason he needed to figure out what was going on. But, in the most incredible way, he had.