For those trying to push through government legislation to improve the quality of the mainstream food supply in the United States, this is a dark time.
The GOP controls the House and the Senate. A lot of centrist Democratic politicians who often got in the way of reform yet also opened the door to reform are gone, especially from the Senate.
To not despair about this predicament and to open up the dialogue, here are a few thoughts on food and politics from the back of my head:
We saw a bunch of news stories from about a year ago about how Brazil was coming up with a food guide. Though we haven't seen updates lately, dreaming about living in a country with food guidelines is miles ahead of the United States. Yes, the U.S. has the My Pyramid but as you'll see with the proposed guidelines, in Portuguese or English, these are some smart ideas.
- Prepare meals from staple and fresh foods.
- Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation.
- Limit consumption of ready-to-consume food and drink products
- Eat regular meals, paying attention, and in appropriate environments.
- Eat in company whenever possible.
- Buy food at places that offer varieties of fresh foods. Avoid those that mainly sell products ready for consumption.
- Develop, practice, share and enjoy your skills in food preparation and cooking.
- Plan your time to give meals and eating proper time and space.
- When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes and meals. Avoid fast food chains.
- Be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.
Implementing these guidelines would involve education for people to learn to cook more and better as well as manage time.
The political right tries to paint food regulation as telling you what you can or can't eat. However, these are principles that even some conservatives can get behind doing.
As for changes in food policy in Canada, the country is holding its proverbial breath for the October federal election. Progress depends on whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets to hang onto that title (perhaps in a minority government) or whether the new prime minister answers to Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau.
Food issues aren't as much on the radar in Canada. The country doesn't even have a federal school lunch program.
"I mentioned like Change.org and some of these advocacy outlets out there, I think that's one way it has to begin to start getting another message out so that legislators, this is something I've dealt with four to five hundred candidates and not one of them have I had to prepare for a nutrition question. And so until they started getting asked, you're not going to see policy changes.
Democratic strategist John Rowley said this on the Melissa Harris Perry show on a Sunday morning on MSNBC some time ago. For all the disconnect with trying to improve food policy in the United States, food policy hasn't been a make-or-break voting issue for politicians.
When the Dems had control of the White House and both houses of Congress, considerable progress got done. Even under the best of circumstances, both houses won't switch back until 2022.
By then, food issues need to be part of the discussion over which candidates run and win office in Washington.
Change can come on the state level. As of January 1, all eggs sold in California have to come from chickens in cages almost twice as spacious as the industry standard.
Some states have passed requirements for GMO labels that go into effect … when other states pass similar laws letting consumers know that GMOs are in their food.
Unfortunately, a lot of governors and control of state legislators are in Republican hands, so only a few states have a likelihood of passing significant food quality reform in the near future.
"The Future of Food in New York City" was the title of a forum in 2013 leading up to the last citywide election in the largest city in the United States.
New York City did a few experiments under former mayor Michael Bloomberg. Getting rid of trans fats (great) and some large sodas (not-so-great) were major items on Bloomberg's legacy. Those moves got people talking about how to deal with food issues on a local level.
Food issues hit large cities in more obvious ways. School lunch and breakfast programs are more vital given the number of children in poverty in the large cities (sheer numbers, not necessarily higher percentages). Public transportation, food deserts, and finding good produce in bad neighborhoods should be on the docket for future forums.
Positive steps, such as urban gardening and produce buses, should also be part of the dialogue.
San Francisco/Bay Area, Portland, OR, Los Angeles, and possibly Chicago could host similar events in their cities.
What if the GOP wins the presidency in 2016?
The major GOP contribution to the school lunch program has been to make pizza a vegetable and cut back on reforms, including portion control.
Political experts, including your humble narrator, can see the Dems winning back the Senate in 2016. Though having a Dem VP would be needed in a 50-50 split in the Senate.
Still, Washington would be shut off to positive change, since the Tea Party dominated House doesn't like the idea of government trying to improve food quality.
The Farm Bill fights will make the previous 4 years seem calm by comparison.
Using all the federal power just to fight back against the crumbs of improvement will be exhausting and frustrating. All the more reason for local change wherever that can be found.