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First Real Mention of Food Issues in the Debates

October 16, 2008

It was quick, and you may have missed it if you were hiding your head under the couch like I often feel compelled to do during presidential debates, but the great healthcare arguement has finally made a mention of obesity, one of the most prolific killers in America today (actual statistics on obesity-related deaths are nearly impossible to nail down). McCain said, when confronted about healthcare, that the country needs to develop physical fitness programs and NUTRITION PROGRAMS (caps are mine, but I know he was thinking caps). It appears the Senator is aware of these issues, and we know that he has opposed ethanol subsidies, but how does his record stand up to getting healthy food to the youth of America?

Grist ran an excellent article two weeks ago comparing the two candidates’ (Obama and McCain) stances on food issues. McCain, true to his maverick deregulating tendencies, has actually lashed out on farm subsidies on numerous occasions, but this is one more case when cavalier free-marketing will only exacerbate problems.  McCain offers no suggestions as to where our food will come from if the subsidies are yanked out from under the feet of the industrial agriculture system. 

Subsidies aren’t the problem so much as the particular subsidies that we have. The money currently used to prop up companies like ADM and ConAgra could be used to support small scale, healthy and ecologically responsible agricultural institutions. John McCain is right that industrial food subsidies are damning to the nation’s nutrition, but why shouldn’t these “nutrition programs” also include supporting the farmers that grow the fresh fruits and vegetables that should be finding their ways into school cafeterias?

In his policy statement, “Prosperity in Rural America”, McCain doesn’t mention alternatives to the industrial food system once. If he cares about the health of our nation, he should look upstream to see where the problem is coming from.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 16, 2008 3:34 am

    I was also thrilled to hear the mention of the obesity epidemic and the need to address this in the schools. However, it came from the candidate who wants to put a freeze on government programs. School budgets are already so tight and so dependent on federal and grant funds to address physical activity and nutrition. How can any progress be made without government funding?
    I also want to point out that Obama referenced the need for spending funds to prevent chronic disease. I’m not sure I’ve heard this mentioned in any of the debates either.

  2. avery permalink
    October 16, 2008 9:02 pm

    Actually, I believe it was Barack Obama who first raised the issue of preventable diseases: obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. He brought
    these up in the context of reducing the cost of health care (to the government) through prevention.

    I would also reiterate Leslie’s comment that, while McCain followed-up Obama by stating the need for nutrition programs, he also suggested a federal spending freeze as part of his economic plan. I am curious how he intends to fund nutrition programs with no new spending!

    Another point – unrelated to food, but worth stating: I think your appropriation of the McCain-Palin campaign’s mantra (“He’s a Maverick!”) is not only poor word choice from a journalistic perspective, but is entirely out of context in this blog post. Republicans, in general, favor deregulation. McCain is by no means the sole Republican cheerleading deregulation of industry.

    Reduction of agricultural subsidies does not fall under “deregulation.” Rather, it is the promotion of free trade. The subsidy issue is extremely complex, and affects everything from the cost of tortillas in Mexico, to the amount of junk food American kids eat, to how much land is put into agricultural production each season.

    I think Obama made a strong argument in the debate yesterday about NAFTA and other free trade agreements. While these deals are labeled “free trade,” they usually just solidify the continuation of U.S. ag subsidies while reducing tariffs and taxes on U.S. goods in foreign countries… not exactly “free” and not exactly fair either.

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