Midterm Elections as They Related to Food and Agriculture

Image via Mother Jones

The midterm election yesterday represented much more than the age-old two-party contention.  In a handful of states, propositions, measures, and candidates found on the ballot held major implications on a plethora of agriculture and food issues.  Mother Jones outlined the various contests and their outcomes, copied below.

Personally, I was most anticipating San Francisco’s Measure E and Berkeley’s Measure D which proposed a two- and one-cent tax per ounce on sugary beverages, respectively.  Given the fight that Big Soda put up against the measures, the contest was one to watch in relation to the future of the soda tax and the fight against big soda.

Another big-ticket item in Colorado, Oregon, and Hawaii were in relation to GMOs.  Unsurprisingly, Monsanto, Pepsico, and Kraft raised over $36 million dollars collectively in these states to fight the initiatives and measures that would require GMO labeling and in Hawaii, a complete moratorium on GMO crops.

Read more about the different contests below, courtesy of Mother Jones.

Colorado Proposition 105: This statewide ballot initiative pushed for the labeling of genetically modified foods, requiring most GM foods to bear a label reading, “produced with genetic engineering.” Burrito chain Chipotle and Whole Foods came out in support of the measure, while agribusiness giants Monsanto, PepsiCo and Kraft came out against it. (Unsurprisingly, 105’s opponents raised more than $12 million—many times what supporters brought in.) Outcome: Colorado voters resoundingly rejected Prop 105, with nearly 70 percent of voters voting no.

Oregon Measure 92: This ballot measure was nearly identical to Colorado’s, requiring foods with GMO ingredients to be labeled. Like in Colorado, Big Ag mobilized big-time against Measure 92, raising more than $16 million. But 92’s supporters—including Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps—raised an impressive $8 million. Outcome: Undecided

San Francisco Measure E and Berkeley Measure D: These two Bay Area cities both considered levying taxes on sugary beverages. San Francisco’s Measure E proposed a two-cent per ounce tax, while Berkeley’s Measure D proposed one-cent per ounce. Both races were considered something of a last stand for the soda tax—if it couldn’t pass in these two bastions of liberalism and healthy living, it was essentially doomed everywhere else. No surprise, then, that Big Soda spent more than $7 million in San Francisco and over $1.7 million in Berkeley (population: 117,000) to defeat the measures. Outcome: Failing to gain the necessary two-thirds supermajority, the San Francisco soda tax failed. Berkeley’s passed overwhelmingly, with 75 percent voting yes.

Maui County, Hawaii, GMO Moratorium Bill: Hawaii’s Maui County—which includes the islands of Maui, Lanai and Molokai—considered one of the strongest anti-GMO bills ever: a complete moratorium on the cultivation of genetically engineered crops until studies conclusively prove they are safe. Agriculture is big business on Maui: the island is a major producer of sugarcane, coffee, and pineapple, among other things. Monsanto is among the companies operating farms in Maui County, and this bill would’ve effectively shut it down. (Under the law, farmers knowingly cultivating GMOs would get hit with a $50,000 per day fine.) Opponents raised nearly $8 million against the measure, making it the most expensive campaign in state history. Outcome: Maui citizens approved the temporary ban, with 50 percent voting yes.

Florida Second Congressional District: Rep. Steve Southerland, a tea party darling, faced Democrat Gwen Graham in his attempt to get re-elected in this Florida Panhandle district. Last year, Southerland attempted to pass legislation that would’ve cut $39 billion in food stamp funding, forcing millions out of the program. (He called the cuts “the defining moral issue of our time.”) Widely considered the most sweeping cuts in decades, they were not passed, and made Southerland an extremely vulnerable incumbent. Outcome: In a rare House flip for Democrats, Rep. Southerland was defeated by Democrat Gwen Graham.

Kansas Senate: Pat Roberts, the three-term Republican Senator from Kansas, faced independent challenger Greg Orman in a surprisingly tight race for this deep-red state. The race was considered a key indicator of the GOP’s Senate hopes, and important for agriculture too: Roberts had said that in the event of a Republican majority, he would be Senate Agriculture Committee Chair—given that he won his own contest, of course. Roberts, once considered a “savior” of food stamp programs, attempted to cut $36 billion from the program last year, and would certainly advocate for similar policy as chairman. Outcome: Roberts won re-election, and the GOP won the Senate majority. Look for Chairman Roberts in 2015.

Animal Welfare, Zero-Sum Games, and Our Food Choices

Image via NPR

I stumbled across an NPR article recently, intrigued not because of its seemingly veganism/vegetarianism commentary, but becausethe human psychology component of goodliness as something other than zero-sum.  The author cites that the most common argument she encounters is the “there are so many other human issues in this world for me to care about to also get all up in caring about factory animals” statement.  In so many of my conversations with friends, co-workers, yoga students, sometimes even strangers, about food consumption and unhealthy food choices, I encounter similar arguments attempting to evade the personal responsibility that surrounds unhealthy or environmentally unfriendly food choices.

Similarities can be drawn between Tania Lombrozo’s article and personal consumption choices in the food industry as a whole.  As Lombrozo states, sometimes goodliness is in fact zero-sum, especially in the case of amount of time, money, and resources you may have.  However, when it comes to the choice between consuming free-range chicken or caged and antibiotic-fed chicken, or local organic vegetables instead of a bag of Doritos, or a diet soda riddled with refined and artificial sugar instead of water, are we actually limited in caring about the issues surrounding these products?

I have to agree with Lombrozo, that while the zero-sum argument may afford us a sense of security and ongoing goodliness in the face of so many issues to care about, it is actually a fallacy. When we have the option between foods that are organic/local/vegan/vegetarian/pesticide-free/antibiotic-free/cage-free etc., does it really take up that much of our mental capacity to make a conscious effort towards goods that are better for our environment, better for our own health, or better for animal welfare?  No, it really doesn’t.  We can make the choice between regular and diet soda, so why should the decision between better products and poor products be any more difficult?

As intelligent beings, we are able to consider multiple issues before we choose to consume a product.  Cell phones and their corresponding contracts are riddled with options, add-ons, and benefits and we seemingly are able to handle the onslaught of those options.  The same should apply to food and what we choose to consume.  Perhaps we are so intelligent that we have tricked ourselves, as Lombrozo hints at, into devising elaborate arguments justifying our lack of caring.  Instead of crafting arguments to protect our aura of goodliness, it might just be easier to consider our willpower to be an unlimited resource.  As Lombrozo states, “there is some evidence that willpower is a limited resource, at least when people think that it’s a limited resource.”  I argue that perhaps it might be time to let go of limiting our willpower and to stop playing the goodliness as zero-sum game in favor of making more conscious food choices.

The full NPR article can be found here.

Things to think about the next time you go grocery shopping.



The Grist: What a More Sustainable American Food System Would Look Like

Photo via The Grist, Artwork by Amelia Bates

The Grist posted a great article and interactive graphic on what the American food system would look like if it were to take a more sustainable approach.  This piece is a part of the greater series, The United States of Sustainability, a project looking to find individuals in every state who is breaking the status quo away from our current food system and simultaneously addressing the issues facing our food system.

From pizza in Seattle, cheese in Wisconsin (obviously), to bugs in Massachusetts (not so obvious), the interactive piece sheds light on some the innovative work being done state-by-state.  At the end of her article, Eve Andrews posits an interesting question when comparing the larger scope issue of the flaws of the American food system with the small-scale work that individuals are accomplishing that contributes to fixing the problems.

“When there are so many problems, how do you pick which one to tackle first?”

I completely agree with her summation that in reality, there is no one definite solution.  It is undoubtedly true that the work that these individuals are doing, even if it just local to their state or city, is a step in the right direction and a step away from mass food production and the ills of the current American food system.

Head on over to The Grist and give the series a whirl.



Putting it on the table…

Welcome to On the Table…a blog diving into the world of food politics, hot topics, the big issues.  My name is Erica, and I am a law school graduate, yoga teacher, and food nut looking to get my feet wet in the food world.  This blog will serve as a resource and hub on food issues, featuring my own book reviews, responses to articles, repostings of the current big issues as I come across them, and obviously much more as the blog evolves.  Please feel free to comment, engage in conversation, or contact me about On the Table.  I am excited to begin this venture and dive into furthering my own knowledge on food, and share it with the world.  So welcome to the table, the conversation will be delicious.