5 Food Policy Issues We Wish the Presidential Candidates Were Talking About

Last Update: March 4, 2021

With both the Democratic and Republican conventions in the books, we now have our two official presidential nominees: Donald Trump for the GOP, Hillary Clinton for the Dems. Tens of millions of Americans tuned in for the speeches covering everything from national and social security, trade and terrorism, immigration and health care.

Notably absent from the conversation? Food policy. Neither major party candidate included food or agriculture in their central platform this election cycle, let alone in their speeches over the last two weeks.

The food policy blackout in this election defies logic: Americans care deeply about food issues. According to a survey earlier this year out of Johns Hopkins University, an overwhelming amount of American voters—92 percent!—say that producing food sustainably is a high priority, and more than half of them would not reelect someone who didn’t share those values. Interest groups are listening—Food Policy Action last year launched its Plate of the Union campaign to bring food issues back into political discussions. Polls conduced by the group also found that American voters are concerned about issues about food. So why aren’t politicians?

With that in mind, here are five food policy issues that the presidential nominees aren’t talking about—even though they should be.

1. Ensuring everyone can afford healthy food

Too many Americans live in areas, both rural and urban, where purchasing healthy food is difficult or impossible. For the millions of people living in food deserts, cheap unhealthy products are easy enough to find, but more nutritious choices remain out of reach. In Food Policy Action’s research, more than half of those polled said securing healthy, affordable food for all, regardless of their zip code, should be a top priority.

One way to make things a little easier on people who can’t find healthy options in their neighborhood? Make food stamps redeemable online. Thrive Market is currently petitioning the United States Department of Agriculture to make Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits available for online use.

2. Protecting children from misleading marketing

Every day, kids and teens see countless messages from food and beverage makers trying to woo them to try their products. It’s not just Lucky the Leprechaun or Chester the Cheetos Cheetah, though; Pepsi’s current emoji campaign directly targets teenagers. First Lady Michelle Obama has made an attempt to pressure companies to curb marketing to children, but since there’s no legal reason to stop, the needle has barely moved.

3. Fixing the federal food subsidy program

The government tells Americans to eat fruits and vegetables, while at the same time subsidizing commodity crops that go into some of the least healthy products. The crop subsidy program—which heavily favors commodities like corn and soybeans—has ballooned over the last half-century, and many consider this a direct cause of the glut of snack foods in that time period. Half of those polled by FPA were concerned about the disconnect between federal nutrition guidelines and federal crop subsidies, and many said they would favor equal subsidies for more nutritious fruits and vegetables.

4. Protecting the safety and well-being of food workers

Statistically, the men and women who bring us our food—from those who pick our crops to those who sell us our sandwiches—are more likely to work long hours for low wages, injury or illness because of their work, or be on food stamps themselves. More than 40 percent of the people polled in the FPA survey said they were “very concerned” about the low pay of these workers. The fight for a $15 federal minimum wage is a step in the right direction, but we still should not overlook the working conditions of the people who make our food.

5. Addressing the impacts of agriculture on the environment

Industrial agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and other causes of climate change. While climate change got a fair amount of attention at the presidential conventions, the majority of Americans—from all parties—prefer a more sustainable agricultural system, specifically. Three-quarters want strong, federal incentives for farmers who choose to produce food in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.

Will Trump and Clinton heed the call from Americans looking for a more robust national conversation about food policy? Given the tone of the election thus far, that seems unlikely. So take matters into your own hands: join Plate of the Union and petition the next president to pay more attention to food policy.

Photo credit: rach2k via Flickr

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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