Photo Credit: Shrimp farming in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo by Mike Lusmore/Duckrabbit, 2012 via Flickr.com user WorldFish

Will Obama take on food?

In the months leading up to the election, food activists (see the video by The White House Organic Farm Project, a.k.a. TheWhoFarm.org below) have been salivating over the possibility that they could convince the next president to turn up some sunny expanse of White House lawn and put in a lush and leafy organic farm. The bounty of veggies could feed not only the first family but also Washington's needy and fresh-food-deprived school children. The example of the first family eating fresh vegetables, prepared by a savvy chef, could also direct positive new attention to the goal of reforming America's notoriously unhealthy diet. The election of Barack Obama makes this dream a distinct possibility. Ever since I saw Obama's logo, the now familiar O with undulant red-and-white stripes across the bottom half, evoking at once our American flag but also our agricultural landscape—spread before a dawning sun, I've been excited. I thought: WOW—This is the first time I've ever seen a candidate put land upfront, and the power of the sun to boot—both potent symbols. Of course, the wide stripes of red and white are commodity crops—corn and soybeans—the stuff of an ethanol frenzy that Obama, as Illinois Senator helped to kindle. Ever since, America's ethanol policy has been widely criticized for elevating global food prices and spurring hunger crises in several developing nations. Yet despite his fondness for turning corn into fuel, Obama's platform also clearly indicates that his administration will be far more open to helping family farms and to developing sustainable agriculture than any other president to date. Some key ideas from the Obama platform include support for immediate implementation of County of Origin Labeling law, stricter water quality regulation for CAFOs (Confined Animal Farm Operations), assistance to help farmers afford to certify their crops as organic, and increased incentives for conservation of wetlands, grasslands and forests on private farm and ranchland. According to his platform, Obama would also implement a $250,000 support payment limit and close subsidy loopholes so family farmers would get the safety net they need but corporate mega-farms would be prevented from farming for federal largesse. Obama would also institute a new training program to encourage young people to become farmers and offer tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to secure land. As another hopeful sign, President-elect Obama has read Michael Pollan's "Open Letter to the Next Farmer in Chief" (published in the New York Times last month). In it, Pollan made a compelling case that to address America's pressing health care, energy, and global warming issues, the new president must reform America's food system. So keep your eye on that White House lawn, and let's hope that what happens there will help Americans to envision a new way of eating and also help to spur policy changes that will make a more sustainable and healthful agriculture possible. What do you think? Leave us a comment. ———- Ann VileisisAnn Vileisis is the author of Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back, which was recently recognized as a Finalist for the Connecticut Book Award. Visit her website.