I don’t need to tell you that 2016 hasn’t exactly been the presidential campaign year my colleagues and I imagined when we launched our “Plate of the Union” initiative last fall. The national conversation has taken a few detours (ahem) that have made it challenging to maintain a focus on issues that really matter to American families, like what’s for dinner and how it gets there.
Still, we’ve made some progress highlighting the problems of our food and agriculture system and the ways that ill-conceived and uncoordinated public policies exacerbate them. And I’m confident that—whoever moves into the White House next January 20—they will have heard from a wide range of constituents about the urgent need for food system reform, and the benefits to be gained by taking it on.
Where we’ve been and where we’re going
Last week, Plate of the Union wrapped up its fall Battleground State Food Truck Tour at its final stop in North Carolina. More on that in a moment, but first, a look back over the past year:
- UCS, Food Policy Action, and the HEAL Food Alliance launched Plate of the Union in October 2015, releasing the results of a national poll showing that American voters on both sides of the aisle care deeply about the state of our food system.
- In December, UCS launched this campaign video explaining the dysfunctional American food system in both English and Spanish and calling on political leaders to provide healthy, sustainable, and affordable food for all. It won second place in the DoGooder National Awards for nonprofit videos, and has accrued more than 300,000 views on social media.
- As the primary season got underway with the Iowa caucuses last winter, UCS’s Ricardo Salvador published a letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register calling on presidential candidates to take up food policy reform. Ricardo and UCS Fellow Mark Bittman visited the state, meeting with allies and appearing on local TV and radio. The Register later published an editorial titled “Why don’t candidates talk about food?”
- In July, Plate of the Union unveiled a food (policy) truck at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where we talked to delegates, elected leaders, and reporters about the campaign. The New York Times even tagged along in Cleveland.
- This fall we took the truck on the road, zig-zagging through key battleground states, hearing from farmers, chefs, scientists, students, and community food leaders about how the current food system threatens public health, the economy, and the environment in their communities. Concerns about water pollution, inequitable access to healthy and affordable foods, and wages for food industry workers – these and many more resonated with voters.
- At the tour’s official launch in Stonyfield Farm in Londonderry, New Hampshire, my colleague, UCS board chair and Dartmouth professor of environmental studies Anne Kapuscinski discussed (and published in an op-ed) how a systems approach to our food system – examining its ecological, social and economic domains – helps us identify the challenges we face, but also the opportunities for change, starting with presidential leadership on holistic food policy reform.
- In Des Moines, we heard from Matt Liebman of Iowa State University, who talked about the need for greater investments in research and incentives for farmers who adopt more sustainable farming practices, which can curb water pollution and save hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money in the process.
- At the truck’s final stop in Durham, North Carolina, more than 170 community residents gathered for a food and farm policy-themed local candidate forum. Joined by local chefs, more than 20 food and farming organizations, and other community leaders, local political candidates talked about the need to reform food and farm policies.
- By the end of our food truck tour, Plate of the Union had collected more than 110,000 signatures on a petition calling on the next president to lead on food system reform. We delivered that petition to the Trump and Clinton campaign offices in Iowa a few weeks ago.
Now, as the election season comes to a close, we’re shifting our attention to communicating with each of the campaigns’ transition teams, and preparing to deliver recommendations to the president-elect later this month. Stay tuned for more about that.
In the meantime, here are some images from the Plate of the Union campaign in 2016: