As we enter a year that is evenly divisible by 4, this is the season to elect nominees for president of the United States, and then on November 8, actually elect the next president of the United States. The new president will be inaugurated one year from today.
As we've seen under Barack Obama, there is only so much a president can do. There is only so much a First Spouse can do, but damn, Michelle Obama has set a very high bar.
The Dems might get control of the Senate back to start 2017. There are no guarantees in politics, but a number of Senate seats (e.g., Illinois, Wisconsin) flipped to the GOP in a backlash in 2010 that should flip back. Also, the Dems tend to do better in lower races in presidential cycles lately.
The House of Representatives is a different beast thanks to redistricting, also from that 2010 election. The way the districts are drawn, the likelihood of the Dems getting enough seats are extremely slim. And even if that happens, some of those wins will be short-lived.
The president can play a role in momentum for the nation, or in the case of the United States, not try to push the idea of ketchup being a vegetable.
We finally got a presidential candidate to weigh in (pun intended) on school lunches. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised a 11-year-old Iowa boy to do away with the healthy school lunch initiative. The boy had complained that pizza and crispitos had disappeared from the menu.
"I don't care what you're eating for lunch every day. I really don't. I want you to eat whatever your mother wants you to eat and your father want you to eat," Christie said. If his parents really want their children to eat crispitos, they could serve them for dinner or even breakfast.
"I want people to eat healthier. I've been trying to eat more healthy. We all should be trying to do that. It makes us better, makes us living longer, better quality of life, all the rest of it. But in the end, it's your choice."
The theoretical objective is that government shouldn't decide what kids should eat for school lunches. Even in the days of school lunches before Michelle Obama got involved, government decided what kids should eat for school lunches. Deciding that healthier is better has advantages on several levels, including improving school performance. Also, with some households, a healthy school lunch is a child's best meal of the day.
Gov. Christie had a much kinder reaction to Michelle Obama's quest in 2011 when he wasn't running for president.
As a citizen who is determining who to vote for to be the next president of the United States, you should be able to ask the folks who are running where they stand, or don't stand, on food policy. If you live in a state up for grabs and/or choose to reach out to them, here are some ideas on what to ask.
Where do you stand on the FDA's move to include added sugars on nutrition labels? What additional moves would you work toward as president to increase consumers' knowledge of the food they are buying?
When we finally get nutrition labels that reflect added sugars, we will get that separation between fruit and milk sugars vs. added sugars to give a better reflection in sweet foods. The previous Canadian conservative government wanted to lump all the sugars together, defeating the purpose of added sugars.
Adding sugars, especially high-fructose corn syrup, is a way for food companies to make foods more addictive. The litany of synonyms for sugar help to throw off consumers looking for sugar in listed ingredients.
This is an example of government regulation that aids consumers without being overbearing in the marketplace. The next president can do more to help consumers through FDA action.
Would you continue to have a "nutrition czar" in the White House? How much priority would a "nutrition czar" have in your administration?
The Obama Administration brought in Sam Kass as a senior policy adviser for nutrition policy and executive director of Let’s Move! Kass served in that role from the start of the administration until leaving in December 2014.
Debra Eschmeyer, who co-founded Food Corps (an AmeriCorps type service program), replaced Kass in those roles.
The surgeon general used to play a larger role in health policy. But the obstruction has limited having a surgeon general in the position, and even when a person is finally in power, little is said about food and nutrition. Policymakers are aware that the United States has a senior policy adviser for nutrition policy, but average Americans would have no idea (unless they read BalanceofFood.com.)
This is not a knock at Eschmeyer or Kass but a reality check that increased visibility would help people possibly rethink their approach to food. Michelle Obama is an excellent spokesperson but more people should know what Eschmeyer is doing to help people.
There is a concern that this push toward better nutrition will suffer when the Obamas leave, even if the next president comes from the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton has certainly been active in nutrition and exercise concerns. The next president should take what is there and build onto that success.
While we would be tempted to have this post reach to a cabinet level position, that person would be subject to confirmation by people who don't believe the government has a role in a better food policy.
In 2010, Congress passed a 6¢ increase in school lunch funding, the first such non-inflationary increase in 36 years. But Congress hasn't passed any increases since then. Are America's children worth a better investment in their school lunches? If you don't think money is the answer, what can we do to improve the nutrition our kids are getting in their learning environment?
We know children can be, well, selective, in their eating habits. Making food nutritious can change the taste of foods, particularly if your palate is used to, well, junk. While steps have been taken to improve the nutritional content of school lunches, patience wasn't part of that package.
The news has been grandiose from Washington but on the local level, the backlash is louder and more effective. Still, we are better off than we were 5 years ago.
The next president can build off this limited success. Building momentum beyond a 4-year or 8-year term as president has been a significant burden for those who believe in long-term, progressive growth. Still, the potential for 16 years in a positive direction could do wonders for a really tough area of concern in school lunches.
What would you include in a national food policy?
By the absence of an official national food policy, we still have one. But we should have an official national food policy and work toward reaching those goals.
"We have the My Pyramid, I mean, MyPlate. Isn't that enough?" A start, but not close to what we need.
Sadly, our unofficial national food policy is a race to the bottom. The school lunch program best exemplifies this short-sighted madness. Maybe we do need a "Bill of Rights" for food policy. Our proposal in 2008 was for the incoming president pick Michael Pollan as Secretary of Agriculture. Mark Bittman might have been better suited, even if he has crossed over to the food producer side.
A national food policy should be a balance of the ideals of a food supply, but also have a voice and contribution from food producers, though that balance should be more in favor of the former than the latter. As for the contributions of food producers, see the next question.
What should the private sector, the food suppliers, do to improve the food supply in this country?
Question 4 should apply to both major political parties, but the GOP isn't interesting in a national food policy. Maybe 50 local food policies, though as we've seen with the European Union, a unified front can do wonders for food quality. If Question 4 doesn't interest the Republicans, Question 5 should be entirely relevant.
Like with climate change, Republican politicians can deny the problems. But people who vote Republican know our food supply is not managed well. Farmers who vote Republican know we need changes. Like climate change, we need a dialogue from all sides of the equation.
Food producers need to be held more accountable in their practices. As we've seen in other countries, these need not be intrusive. Just that people should know what they are buying.
Republicans, especially politicians from that party, like to talk about free enterprise and unfiltered capitalism. Many of the criticisms from the left, such as subsidizing GMO corn and soybeans, would also be criticisms from the right if the question were framed in a way that would appeal to them.
The populism of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump has shown there is a cry from both sides of the aisle over significant change, including the food supply. The best way to appeal to Republicans is to skip past the politicians, pundits, and the crony class right to the people who struggle financially to put food on the table.