Planting the White House Kitchen Garden

War and Peace with the Food Industry

Depending upon what you read this week, First Lady Michelle has either rolled over for the food industry or brilliantly changed the industry’s direction. In our polarized world, the same facts fit neatly into two stories that go in opposite directions.

Michael Pollan – famous for suggesting that we “eat food” – serves up a lengthy accounting in the New York Times of all the ways that Obama failed to take on Big Food. He says:

As the Obamas prepare to leave the White House, Big Food can congratulate itself on retaining its political grip on Washington. It seems very unlikely that the next occupant of the White House is going to pose as stiff a challenge. Donald Trump professes to love fast food, and Hillary Clinton has longstanding ties to Big Food. Tyson was one of Bill Clinton’s first political patrons, and as a lawyer in Arkansas, Hillary Clinton served on the board at Walmart.

The opposite view comes from Julia Belluz at the progressive news website Vox. She praises Obama for quietly changing what Americans eat. Belluz says:

I learned that some of the very things that made Michelle Obama sometimes appear soft — the industry collaborations, the emphasis on exercise — were part of the shrewd strategy that made her effective. Through her leadership, the Obama administration seized on a moment when America started paying attention to food, and made fighting obesity a top priority — both symbolically and legislatively.

Even Pollan concedes that Obama deserves credit for bringing national attention to food policy. The changes are unmistakeable. The quality of food served in our nations schools has improved. More transparency for nutrition labeling is coming to every packaged food sold in America. Some big food companies – Nestlé for example – are actively advocating for these changes and more.

People are vigorously debating the best ways to improve the quality of our food supply. If we can keep the facts, suppositions, and myths separated, that debate might lead us to better policies.

Click here to read more from the New York Times and here to read more from Vox.

Planting the White House Kitchen Garden, photograph by Aubrey Gemignani for NASA / flickr

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September 7, 2016