The Plate of the Union Campaign

food_flag_plate.jpgHave you heard a single candidate for President mention food policy yet? Will our next President be as beholden to agribusiness as so many have been before her/him? Shouldn’t a President and Congress address an issue that has the potential to literally bankrupt our country?

Food visionaries and authors Mark Bittman, Olivier de Schutter, Michael Pollan, and Ricardo Salvador hold forth in the current winter issue of “Catalyst,” a publication of Union of Concerned Scientists, with a remarkably succinct and reasonable editorial they call “Re-Envisioning Our Broken Food System.”

Actually, they first proposed this sweeping action in a full-page letter in The New York Times last year. Now they’re back, more reasonable and compelling than before. If the health of millions of Americans means something to our nation’s moral compass, we must take action now.

And if one article/essay can bring you up-to-date on government policies related to food (in layman’s terms) and inspire a national call for a food system that is “healthy, green, affordable, and fair,” then THIS IS IT!

Here’s the preamble, so to speak. We urge you to read the entire essay and its 15-point proposal



Because of unhealthy diets in the United States, a century of progress to improve public health and extend life span has been reversed. Today’s children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents, in large part because a third of these children will develop type 2 diabetes, a preventable disease—formerly rare in children—that reduces life expectancy. At the same time, our fossil fuel–dependent food and agriculture system is responsible for a large share of global warming emissions and environmental degradation. And the exploitative labor practices of the farming and fast food industries contribute to income inequality and health disparities in America.

Diet-related chronic disease, food safety, marketing to children, labor conditions, wages for farm and food-chain workers, immigration, water and air quality, global warming emissions, and support for farmers: all these issues are connected to the food system. Yet government policy to address these problems is made piecemeal and overseen by eight different federal agencies. Current government policies and incentives reward production of too much of the wrong stuff, at great cost to natural resources and public health. Amid this incoherence, special interests thrive and the public good suffers.

Of course, reforming the food system will ultimately depend on a Congress that has, for decades, been beholden to agribusiness—one of the most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill. As long as food-related issues are treated as discrete rather than systemic problems, congressional committees in thrall to special interests will be able to block change.

But the next president can break the deadlock by announcing an executive order that establishes a National Food Policy for the 21st Century. Such a policy would start with a declaration of vision: that government policies related to food are intended to produce a wholesome and healthful food supply for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, while treating humans and animals fairly and compassionately and nurturing the ecosystems on which we depend. In other words, a food system that is healthy, green, affordable, and fair.

By laying out such a vision and officially acknowledging how interconnected these problems are, a national food policy can create momentum for reform. And the benefits would accrue across our society: just in terms of health care, for example, increasing national consumption of fruits and vegetables to meet the government’s current recommendations would save more than 100,000 lives from heart disease alone, not to mention $17 billion annually in associated health care costs. 


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