A Place For Sustainable Food in Obama Administration?

This column looks at President-elect Barack Obama's food politics and wonders just how sustainable his administration's food policies will be.
January 2, 2009, 9am PST | Nate Berg
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"Obama has raised hopes he will inspire Americans away from fool's gold-en arches and toward farmers markets and community supported agriculture (where people buy a share in a farm's annual harvest). Obama is the most healthy eater to enter the White House in a long time, unlike George H.W. Bush who castigated broccoli as he craved pork rinds, unlike ravenous Bill Clinton, who gained 30 pounds in his first presidential campaign, and unlike the junior George W. Bush, who, pun intended, butchered the meat of his message on food. He once said, 'I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.'"

"Obama purchased peaches, pears, apples and nectarines from farmers markets on the campaign trail. Grass-roots organizing in farmers markets helped him turn Indiana from a red state to a blue state and cruise to victory in Wisconsin. Physician Rob Stone told the Los Angeles Times, 'Obama's played Bloomington like a violin. Last summer, his people put out a table at the local farmers market and they've been showing up every weekend.'"

"Obama's nomination of former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack for Agriculture secretary further leaves unclear if he has a food strategy. Vilsack is a relatively open-minded farm-belt politician on alternative energy. But Monsanto's vice president of global plant breeding, Ted Crosbie, said Vilsack has 'a very balanced view of agriculture.'"

"The problem is that agribusiness is grossly unbalanced, flooding Capitol Hill with $1 billion of lobbying efforts the last 11 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, reaping $177 billion in subsidies the last 12, according to the Environmental Working Group. There is so little accountability in farm payment programs that the Government Accountability Office reported in October that the United States Department of Agriculture paid out a total of $49 million to 2,702 potentially ineligible people whose adjusted gross income was more than $2.5 million and derived less than 75 percent of their income from farming, ranching, or forestry."

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Published on Tuesday, December 30, 2008 in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
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