Why Aren’t the Presidential Candidates Talking About Food?

Last Update: February 25, 2021

No matter what your political affiliation, we can all agree the 2016 race for the White House has been equal parts fascinating, wacky, unprecedented, and intense. While this crazy campaign has often delved into the realm of the unbelievable, it has occasionally focused on actual issues affecting Americans—from healthcare, to taxes, to war, to job creation.

There’s one policy issue, though, that impacts all 319 million Americans that the candidates for president (on both sides) have barely addressed: food policy.

That’s right—the complicated web of legislation, regulation, and corporate influence that gets food from farms to our plates—has not been central to any candidate’s stump speech. In fact, it has barely come up. Even in the months leading up to the January caucuses in Iowa—perhaps the nation’s quintessential agricultural state—food and farm policy positions were a non-factor in the outcome. In fact, Ted Cruz, who won the Republican caucuses, fiercely and vocally opposes federal subsidies for corn to make ethanol fuel—a beloved program in Iowa.

Even now, you have to do quite a bit of digging to find anything remotely resembling candidate positions on issues like genetic modification, federal nutrition benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), or the industrialization of our food supply.

Huffington Post wanted to get the candidates on the record on some of these issues, so it sent each candidate a questionnaire asking about food and agriculture policy positions. Prominent food nonprofit Food Tank did the same. The results? Crickets. Neither received a completed survey from even one of the candidates on food policy.

In fairness, two candidates have previously published some of their views on agriculture and the “rural economy,” but they almost never talk about those views in debates or at rallies.

What gives? The food system is, perhaps, the most vital industry we have as a nation. It nourishes us. It sustains families. It regenerates (or, in some cases, harms) our ecology. It drives economies. Few would argue the fact that as farms and food corporations have grown in size, the food we eat has become less nutritious, less localized, and more consolidated. Chemical use in agriculture is harming not only the land and the workers who farm it, but the population as well.

According to a new survey by Johns Hopkins University, American voters overwhelmingly—92 percent!—want a food system that utilizes sustainable practices and are more than half are willing to take their food values into the voting both. And Food Policy Action (which last year launched its “Plate of the Union” campaign to bring food back to the campaign trail) has conducted a series of polls revealing that American voters are concerned about an array of food policy issues, from childhood nutrition to worker rights. As we’ve seen on issues like GMOs, voter opinions can sway policy-makers and corporations to enact change.

There’s no question that given the increased interest in food and food policy among average Americans, the subject is destined to become a talking point in future campaigns. We can’t wait for future campaigns, however—the challenges (from pesticides to diet-related disease) are too great.

Do you want the candidates for President to make food policy a bigger part of their campaigns? Let them know!

Editor’s note: Although Bernie Sanders and other candidates have spoken about food policy in the past, no candidate has made the issue a significant part of their presidential campaign. 

Photo credit: Alex Proimos 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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