Last week I was asked to share some ideas about why Presidential Candidates aren’t talking about FOOD. After all what we eat, how we grow and raise it, how we distribute it and what we do with the leftovers influences our environment, public health, national security, class issues, social justice issues like hunger, education, and so on. Food touches everything.
How Stuff Works included several of my quotes in this article, but I thought you might want to read how I originally responded to their question, in full:
Last November, Pollan, Bittman et al published an op-ed in the Washington Post calling on the president to establish a National Food Policy (NFP). It was the right thing, perhaps overdue, but these guys are leaders and they have given a voice to our greatest needs for many years. The making, growing and eating of food has an immense impact—in fact, the biggest impact on our well being comes from what we eat. Many of us have been asking for a decade why FOOD doesn’t get the same attention that national security or economic policy does… FOOD affects those issues, and it affects our education and our health care, our jobs issues and more.
Why is there no National Food Plan???
It’s appalling. All the FOOD folks calling for an NFP agree on a general set of principles, outlined by Bittman and Pollan.
- All Americans have access to healthful food;
- Farm policies are designed to support our public health and environmental objectives;
- Our food supply is free of toxic bacteria, chemicals, and drugs;
- Production and marketing of our food are done transparently;
- The food industry pays a fair wage to those it employs;
- Food marketing sets children up for healthful lives by instilling in them a habit of eating real food;
- Animals are treated with compassion and attention to their well-being;
- The food system’s carbon footprint is reduced, and the amount of carbon sequestered on farmland is increased;
- The food system is sufficiently resilient to withstand the effects of climate change.
This is all common sense stuff, and the reality is that our current policies have done the opposite of enacting these necessary changes. Our weight is worse, our kids eat worse, diabetes is a reality for a third of children when 50 years ago it was a rarity. Hunger is an issue for 20% of Americans, our ag system is destroying our eco-system and our food and ag industries combined are hurting, not helping, the income gap in America.
Why is eating well a class issue? The good food revolution is only for the 1%.
As so many over the last 20 years have pointed out, this is all because our national, state and local policies have failed to address these issues with a national strategy. That has allowed Big Ag, Big Food and others who do not hold the public’s welfare in high regard to control the agendas. Our legislative branch of government is in the pocket of Big Ag and Big Food and the lobbyists they hide behind. Case in point, sugar. One can of pop is 100% of your top end recommended sugar intake for a day. Sugar is a poison that’s hurting our children. It’s a drug. And yet our national leaders haven’t put a stop to practices that allow this ingredient to thrive front and center INSIDE our schools. The only answer can be that special interests are controlling the conversation.
We need a NFP policy council created out of the White House because without it there is no clarion call for reform. There would be no umbrella agency under which all the federal agencies could operate in lock step. And for that to happen someone—anyone—needs to start talking about the issues.
Why have no candidates put out a white paper on what their NFP would look like?
Why has no one detailed what their food system policies would look like? I mean, after all, that white paper would have a profound and lasting impact on every aspect of our daily life. As much as any HUD study, or National Security analysis or Foreign Policy plank. Anyone who cares about this vital issue is disappointed and crushed. My friends are and I tell them to keep their chins up because the folks over at Food Policy Action, have teamed up with the Union of Concerned Scientists and the HEAL Food Alliance and launched a Plate of the Union campaign to try to get the candidates to discuss the issues and declare a position.
I think the reason no one has declared a position yet is because we aren’t asking them too. And the reason we aren’t asking is because too many Americans still have their heads in the sand and don’t see the vital importance of this issue, and how much is at stake if we don’t advocate for change. Change, and progress… those are the languages of the reformers. And the reformers, the true progressives like Senator Sanders will probably come out on this issue first because the Sanders campaign is heavily invested in first and second time voters, people of color, single women and all the other groups who the polls say are most interested in seeing their FOOD world change. Sanders is a true progressive and progress on this issue would be what his base wants, so expect him to be the first to address this issue.
Look, everyone I know wants Americans—all Americans—to have access to healthy affordable food.
We want our children to be food secure and eat well every place that the public $ intersects with them. We want Big Food to stop marketing unhealthy foods at our children. Remember 80% of food advertised at kids on TV falls into the least healthy categories. We want government to stop subsidizing processed food ingredients like corn syrup and start subsidizing farmers growing fruits and vegetables. We want food workers to be safe and be paid equitably. We want our farms to be managed properly with an eye towards benefiting the environment, not destroying it.
But the general population needs to be educated about these issues before they will demand answers of their candidates. Most Americans still don’t identify these issues as problems that are political. The Plate of the Union campaign aims to connect those dots, and if they can educate the voters, then the American public will respond.
Admitting you have a problem is the first step towards getting well. If you’re in denial you can’t solve a problem because for you it doesn’t exist. The folks at Food Policy Action understand that education is what this social justice movement needs, so that it becomes a national political conversation and allows all Americans to see that systematic wholesale change is desperately needed.