Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is a New Food Policy on Obama’s List?

Parents want better public-school lunches. Consumer groups are dreaming of a new, stronger food safety system. Nutrition reformers want prisoners to be fed less soy. And a farmer in Maine is asking the president-elect to plow under an acre of White House lawn for an organic vegetable garden.

Although Mr. Obama has proposed changes in the nation’s farm and rural policies and emphasizes the connection between diet and health, there is nothing to indicate he has a special interest in a radical makeover of the way food is grown and sold.

Some want him to appoint a chef who cooks with local ingredients; some want their guy in Agriculture. Get in line.

As for Michelle Obama, she has said in interviews that she tries to buy organic food and watches the amount of high-fructose corn syrup in her family’s diet. And, as she confided on “The View” on ABC, “We’re bacon people.”

Pig is good.

Food advocates aren’t the only ones whose hopes for the new administration received a quick kick to the curb. A coalition of more than 140 environmental groups and scientists sent letters supporting one candidate to lead the Department of the Interior. Mr. Obama chose someone else. Multiply that by every special interest and it becomes clear that just because changing the food system is the first priority for some, it isn’t so for everyone. The pragmatists among the food reformers understand.

Some complain that Tom Vilsack is just another shill for Monsanto and corporate agribusiness. He ain't a radical, for sure, but seems to have a little different outlook on things. Yes, he was Iowa governor, likes corn-based ethanol. But, let's be realistic.

“This president is taking over when the economy is the worst it has been in our lifetime and we are in the middle of wars,” said Ann Cooper, the chef who transformed the school food program for the Berkeley Unified School District in California and is about to do the same in Boulder, Colo. “I think it’s somewhere between naïve and fairy tale to think his No. 1 focus is going to be on food.”


Still, she has her own little wish, which is that the new president will move responsibility for school food programs to the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services from the Department of Agriculture. That way, the focus might shift away from the commodity foods that are the backbone of most school lunches and toward menus tailored to the health and development of children.

Now, that makes a lot of sense, and is practical.

A chef who cooks local and organic food and picks some of it from a presidential garden could change things faster than any cabinet appointment, Ms. Reichl said. “It’s like the hat manufacturers being furious because J. F. K. didn’t wear a hat, and suddenly everyone in America stopped wearing hats,” she said. “It’s that simple.”

That also makes sense.

Is a New Food Policy on Obama’s List?
Steve Brodner -To advocates who have watched calls for changes in food policy gather political and popular momentum, Barack Obama looks like their kind of president.

For sustainability: Paul Willis, right, and his Iowa neighbor David Murphy have favorite candidates for top jobs in the Department of Agriculture.

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