The election is right around the corner! Make sure your vote is an informed one!
Although the issue of food policy was under highlighted in the Presidential debates, it is nonetheless of political importance. From the farm bill, which impacts the cost and availability of food, to USDA public health promotional campaigns, to FDA food regulations, there are many avenues US leadership can take to change the way we access food in this country.
So what are the issues that a savvy Celiac should consider before casting their vote? The farm bill, food safety programs and access to and promotion of nutritional foods are the key issues that I want to explore so that I can make an informed decision at the polls.
This post is not an endorsement of either candidate.
The farm bill impacts a population much broader than US farmers. When (or should I say if?) the farm bill is passed it will impact the cost of food as well as our access to certain foods. The next President will not only have to deal with getting the farm bill passed but will also play a role in shaping it.
As someone who is gluten free, the availability of gluten free food is a very important issue. Since gluten free foods tend to be more expensive than products made with wheat flour it would be in our best interest to support policies that make farming more economical, especially for small farmers. Here is the catch: the farm bill attempts to support all farmers, making all food more accessible and affordable. Cheaper brown rice would be great but if wheat flour is also made more accessible and even more affordable than it already is we are likely to see some unintended consequences.
If wheat flour is made more expensive don’t you think that restaurants might think twice about dredging their meats in flour? They might consider using an alternative like cornmeal or rice flour. Cost and accessibility shape our food options both at the market and when dining out.
The President has repeatedly articulated the importance of passing a farm bill this year. He calls for adequate protection of American farmers from draught and natural disasters and promotes diverse, specialty crops like fruits, nuts and veggies (which is great for us!).
Romney has taken jabs at Obama during the campaign about his failure to get the House the pass the bill. Romney thinks that Obama does not have the leadership skills necessary to get a bill passed. He argued that “[P]eople have been waiting a long time for a farm bill. And the president has to exert the kind of presidential leadership it takes to get the House and the Senate together and actually pass a farm bill.”
Romney supports disaster relief as well but also indirectly supports subsidizing American farmers. Romney says that other nations subsidize their farmers and if the US is to compete we will need to do the same.
When you get down into the nitty-gritty of both candidates’ farm bill positions there are more similarities than differences. Both candidates will cut about $30 billion out of agricultural spending by eliminating many of the subsidies that currently go to crop insurance companies. Much of the farm bill is allocated towards food stamps. Here lies the biggest difference between an Obama supported farm bill and a Romney supported bill: Romney/Ryan support decreasing the amount of people using food stamps. They said that they don’t need to cut the program to reach their goal. Romney said, “I want to make sure we get people off food stamps, not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs.”
President Obama created several programs that promote food safety. He established the Food Safety Working Group, which is a group that focuses on updating and improving US food safety systems. Obama also increased the authority of the FDA so they can more effectively enforce food safety regulations.
Although Romney believes in the importance of access to safe foods his approach to securing such food is very different from Obama’s approach.
Romney supports a more hands off approach to preventing food-borne illnesses. He argues that “preventative practices” are the best way to prevent outbreaks. These practices/protocol would be developed by the private sector because Romney believes that the people in the fields are the best equipped to handle this issue. Romney’s campaign states that it is most cost efficient and effective to allow food growers, handlers and processors to create food safety protocol. As for the role of the FDA, Romney’s campaign said that the Romney Administration would prioritize collaboration between the FDA and the private farm sector on this issue.
The Obama family is very committed to promoting healthful food choices in schools and encouraging people of all ages to lead active lifestyles. Michelle Obama worked to get more salad bars into schools, President Obama supported the USDA’s new food pyramid, MyPlate as well as their Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Snack Program and both of the Obamas encourage cities to get involved with the Let’s Move! program which provides local towns and cities with tools to get community members exercising. President Obama believes that partnering with the private sector and supporting federal programs to promote healthful lifestyles is the best way to improve the health of the public.
Romney does not support nanny-laws and is committed to making sure the federal government does not overstep its role in American lives. These beliefs about the role of the government shape Romney’s strategies for tackling public health.
In response to questions about promoting nutrition the Romney campaign gave a quick and short response:
“The federal government should not dictate what every American eats… An emphasis on a balanced diet will be crucial to addressing this crisis and public health programs in a Romney Administration will highlight the importance of healthy eating.”
Romney and his campaign have not articulated a plan nor a specific commitment to promoting nutrition and healthful lifestyle choices.
Now that we know where each candidate stands on these issues the next question is “Does it matter?” As someone who studied Public Health it greatly matters to me but this post isn’t about public health (in general) it is about whether or not being gluten free should impact the way you vote.
The answer is: probably not. The gluten free diet, though more popular and well-known than ever before, is far from the norm. A farm bill that cuts the profitability of wheat farmers is not going to change the fact that people love their gluten. It is an ingredient that has dominated palates across continents. Although I do believe it is important for voters to take the issues I described above into consideration when casting their vote, I do not think that our gluten free fate is in the hands of the future President.
Ultimately, it comes down to constant vigilance, commitment and willingness to speak up for your needs. There is no quick-fix solution to the lack of awareness about gluten intolerance, Celiacs and food allergies in this country but every time you explain it to a waiter at a local restaurant or to a new acquaintance you are making a difference. It isn’t just about being gluten free! I am talking about spreading awareness about restricted diets and cross contamination, issues that make the lives of millions so challenging in the US. Not many people can say that when they dine out they help change the world but we can.