The Great Food Blackout of 2016: How the Presidential Election Ignored the Most Vital Ingredient to Human Survival

Christopher D. Cook | 07.18.2016

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Remember the great 2016 presidential campaign debate about food and agriculture, the backbone of human nourishment and survival? Remember when the candidates were forced to articulate their stances on soil regeneration, farm subsidy inequities, labor abuse in the food industry, and how to rein in pesticides and GMOs while expanding organic diversified farming? Remember when the media pressed candidates to explain how they would make food and farming equitable, truly sustainable, and deeply healthful for generations to come?

You didn’t forget—it never happened.

In an often-riveting and raucous election season that saw Bernie Sanders push inequality and climate change to the front burner of the political hot stove, integrally related food and agriculture issues (including mass hunger, food insecurity, and the food industry’s huge role in climate change) were left neglected on the shelf.

Instead, throughout the primaries, this primary ingredient in human existence received sporadic moments of attention aimed at harvesting votes. We heard a bit about ethanol and biofuels in Iowa. In Pennsylvania, in one of the few high-profile electoral food fights, Hillary and Bernie clashed over a Philadelphia soda tax (Clinton supported, Sanders opposed). Here and there, a sprinkling of talk about child and family nutrition, farmworkers, and trade. No prominent debate (or even a debate question) about hunger, sustainable agriculture, soil and climate change, food and farmworker poverty, or GMOs.

Given food and agriculture’s electoral invisibility, one could easily think our food system is in fine shape, feeding everyone nutritiously, supporting small farmers, and combating rather than contributing to climate change.

How can this be? With individual and global life-and-death issues stemming from how we produce, distribute, and consume food, how can this vast, multi-dimensional terrain be marginalized and ignored by candidates and the media? What does this say about electoral politics and the power and voice of food movements?

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