Tweetchat Time With The Big Three



By Deborah Szekely and Damon Cory-Watson

Years ago there was a rather common game show trick that involved having a contestant step inside a clear phone booth-like enclosure. A hidden blower turned on and suddenly the “lucky” person was surrounded by a blizzard of U.S. currency. The audience went wild. The contestant went … frantic. He or she was supposed to try and grab a bill or two. It wasn’t easy. Most of the time flailing flingers grabbed nothing but air.

Yesterday, I felt like I’d stepped into that booth. I was surrounded by a tornado of Tweets, each vying for my attention. That’s what a Tweetchat is like, and at first it’s almost impossible to focus on one comment, one question, or one answer. You grab at thin air. At least I did.

But then you settle in a bit. I’m glad I stuck around, because the dialogue about whether or not the U.S. should establish some kind of food policy that protects its citizens, not unlike a foreign policy, is intriguing—even in the face of the doubters who accuse us of promoting yet another step toward a “nanny state.”

Hosted by journalist/UC professor Michael Pollan, food journalist Mark Bittman, and Union of Concerned Scientists Environment Director Ricardo Salvador, the “conversation on a national food policy” (NFP) kicked into gear at noon Pacific time. As you probably recall, this trio introduced this food policy call to action about two weeks ago with their op-ed piece in the Washington Post

If you’d like to dig in to the “play by play, click here.  

But for a quicker overview, let’s turn to Wellness Warrior reporter Damon Cory-Watson, who was on-line with me and--with his advantage of being about 60 years younger than me--he was cruising right along:

Thanks Deborah. It was fun, no?"

The Tweetchat opened with some questions about definitions and mechanics:

  • Question 1: What does a National Food Policy mean?

  • Q2: Who will be in charge of implementing a National Food Policy? FDA, USDA, health departments?

  • Q3: How will a National Food Policy interact with the current farmbill?

Answers from the three leaned towards engaging the White House to articulate clear goals for food in the U.S., to insisting that agencies coordinate existing policies to carry out these goals.

The chat (and there were probably hundreds of us participating) then moved on to questions about the influence of money and political power.

  • Q4:How would you ensure a National Food Policy is not co-opted by the same people who already are gaming the system?

  • Q5:What role should subsidies play in our National Food Policy?

No real answers here, but it was obvious that all want any policy to be above influencers and corrupters. On the subject of subsidies, they can play a role, but must be contingent on rewarding good farming practices (of course it’s important to define “good”).

We then moved to the social — making things equitable for everyone in the food game, and ensuring that farmers and farmworkers (and food workers) get what they need.

  • Q6: Do you see a national food policy as our best mechanism for addressing issues of equity? How?

  • Q7:How can we work with farmers & farmworkers to ensure that a National Food Policy would serve their needs?

Answers leaned towards equity and fair/just being an implicit part of an NFP. These problems are intertwined with solving the other problems of our food system.

The last three Questions centered around how we can help move this agenda forward.

  • Q8: What role do you see community-based orgs & non-profits playing in your efforts to move your agenda forward?

  • Q9: How does farm to school fit into the equation?

  • Q10: What can I do as a citizen to help this movement? What else, besides petitions & calling congress, can I do?

Answers leaned towards empowerment. We need all hands on deck and everyone chipping in to make an NFP a reality, or at least to move the food movement forward. I think that Q8 had some particularly good answers from the panel (read bottom to top):


Bittman, Pollan and Salvador didn’t claim to have all of the answers. Their goal was to bring people together, push the issue and let an engaged and informed democracy of the people (and not corporations) decide.

It’s hard to sum everything up in 10 questions and 30 some answers. There’s a thousand questions and a million answers out there. We need to start asking them and figuring out the best answers. Right now, it seems NFP is an amorphous panacea that envisions a theoretical utopia. Obviously, it is more nuanced than that (which clearly these folks know). This is a super idealist platform. It is an idea and principle to rally behind, something to band the food movement together, but not necessarily a movement that has a realistic chance at fruition this year.

However, isn’t about time that we got more of that angry idealism back? What little I learned from the death of environmentalist Martin Litton this week (I feel slightly ashamed that I hadn’t learned about him earlier in my life) is that he won battles, like blocking dam projects on the Colorado, by being an idealist and never backing down. He won a few great ones. He lost a few, too.

Deborah here again. I weighed in a few times, especially when the conversation turned to community groups taking action. Someone mentioned that they will be the matches that light the fire.

And I tweeted, essentially, “Great. I’ll help bring the firewood!”

We all learned something from the frenetic hour, and in  summary Mark Bittman gave the last word on UCS’s twitter feed:

Reiterate: Everyone living in the US has the right to fair, green, healthy, affordable food.#NFPTALK

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