In the weeks before Election Day, food trucks will roll into battleground states such as Ohio and Iowa to serve up local fare with a side dish of liberal politics. The trucks are sponsored by the “Plate of the Union” campaign, a group of elite foodies who insist the “next president prioritize fixing our broken food system.”
Aside from a few references to hot sauce and taco bowls, very little has been said about food by either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump this year. But Plate of the Union organizers want to change that before November 8 and are petitioning the candidates “to reform our food system so that every American has access to healthy, affordable food that is fair to workers, good for the environment, and ensures that farmers can keep farming.”
The Plate of the Union campaign claims:
Our broken food system is propped up by agricultural policies created and maintained by powerful lobbyists. The consequences are all around us — a public health crisis, climate change, polluted waterways, and sub-minimum wages for food workers and their families.
But when liberals say something is “broken,” hold on to your wallet. These foodies are demanding that the federal government deploy new regulations such as subsidizing organic farmers, stopping food companies from marketing junk food, and raising the minimum wage for low-skilled workers.
Ironically, Plate of the Union is led by people who’ve earned massive fortune and fame off this allegedly broken food system, including wealthy organic-food executives and celebrity chefs such as restaurateur/Democratic activist Tom Colicchio. During the Republican and Democratic conventions this summer, Colicchio wooed delegates with barbequed brisket and lectures about farming and food stamps. He’s the co-founder of Food Policy Action, a PAC that scores lawmakers on their votes on a number of food-related issues (most congressional Republicans rate less than 25 percent).
In his video endorsement for Hillary Clinton, Colicchio argued that “we have a broken food system and one that needs a proven leader to help fix it, who has a plan to execute that vision on day one.” (On her website, Clinton devotes only two sentences to food and farming: “Hillary will increase funding to support the next generation of farmers and ranchers in local food markets and regional food systems. And she’ll create a focused safety net to help family farms get through challenging times.”)
The fact is that most elite foodies like Colicchio are liberal Democrats who use food as a tool to advance their agenda of stricter environmental regulations and more subsidized nutrition programs. They are resisting efforts by Republicans in Congress to roll back some Obama-era food policies like the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act, which vastly expanded the taxpayer-funded school-lunch program and set strict limits on fat, white flour, and salt (there is no evidence it has made kids any healthier).
Despite the foodies’ lament about a broken food system, the U.S. has the most affordable, accessible, and abundant food system in the world. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, Americans spend less than 7 percent of our total household budget on food, the lowest of any other country. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the “U.S. is on track this year to post the longest stretch of falling food prices in more than 50 years . . . fueled by an excess supply of dairy products, meat, grains and other staples.” The USDA just announced it will spend $20 million to purchase and donate 11 million pounds of excess cheese, a glut created by low prices and high production (the cheese will go to food banks and pantries). Higher yields of commodity crops and cheap energy are also contributing to lower prices and more choices for shoppers.
So will fixing the ‘broken’ food system be on the next president’s plate?
This is the kind of broken food system Venezuelans can only dream about.
So will fixing the “broken” food system be on the next president’s plate? Clinton hasn’t said much about food or agriculture on the campaign trail, but her close friendship with current Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack may be a clue. Vilsack is President Obama’s longest-serving cabinet member and is viewed with some skepticism by elite foodies because of his support of genetically engineered crops and farm subsidies. But Vilsack’s USDA has also increased funding for free school breakfasts and summer meals for kids as well as grants for farm-to-table programs; Clinton would probably continue those foodie-favorite initiatives and oppose congressional bills to reform school meals and the Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, the program commonly known as food stamps). It’s likely she’d tie food production to “sustainability” goals pushed by environmentalists.
In 2015, Clinton also told a conference of fast-food workers she wanted to “be their champion” and supports calls for a $15-per-hour living wage. She also supports a tax on sugary beverages.
Donald Trump would probably align with congressional Republicans and agribusiness on food and farm policies. In August, Trump announced his Agricultural Advisory Committee, acknowledging “the critical role our nation’s agricultural community plays in feeding not only our country, but the world, and how important these Americans are to powering our nation’s economy.” The committee is a group of heavy hitters including current and former governors of farming-friendly states and the heads of major agricultural groups. His only major policy difference with the farming interest is his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement, which is mostly supported by the agriculture sector.
Trump would also be more amenable to reforming school meals and SNAP; he frequently mentions the 43 million Americans who use food stamps and supports separating that program from the farm bill.
Regardless of who wins in November, the foodies won’t stop pushing for more government intrusion into how we eat, farm, and feed our families. No doubt there are challenges we need to address; obesity and diabetes rates tell the story. But force-feeding Americans more taxpayer-funded government mandates, no matter how good it makes the foodies feel, is not the recipe the next president should follow.