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What's Obama Doing For the Food Industry?

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Although perhaps a certain segment of the population believes he should be throwing red paint on fur-coated old ladies and boycotting West Hollywood restaurants that serve foie gras, President Obama has actually been doing a pretty good job heeding Michael Pollan's call to real action within the American food industry.

It's no secret things are all fouled up: widespread salmonella breakouts, an obesity epidemic, outrageous health care costs, and terrible conditions for industrial farm-bred livestock. We already know why our food system sucks, but what's a President supposed to do about it? Well, despite the crushing economic and political weights already placed on his shoulders, there's been major efforts from the Obama administration to address our food woes.

Tom Vilsack: He's the new Agriculture Secretary. Basically, he's the dude in charge of this whole shebang. So what's on his list of Stuff To Get Done? Well, first, more transparency in food and agriculture policy (in keeping with a general Obama Administration objective). Then, possible payment limits on agricultural subsidies (a major tax-suck and also the reason why the Corn Industry is King in America -- they have the most lobbyists!). Health and nutrition are also top his list, particularly child obesity, as well as environmental initiatives. (Read more at the USDA website.) He also wants to budget more for wildfire prevention -- a policy that would hopefully have a positive impact on California's agricultural productivity.

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Vilsack's actions are crucial to the next four years of food policy, and his interpretation of the Farm Bill could have major results. California is a major and a diverse supplier of America's Foodbasket, and we will be immediately impacted by any national activity in the agricultural and energy sectors. We are also a leader for the organic and local food movement -- yes, even though we're kind of cheating, since we can grow amazing produce all year long (HA!).

Michelle Obama: While Pollanites waited anxiously for the President to start taking an active role in promoting health and food, turns out another powerful force in the White House was shouldering that responsibility. First Lady Obama has seemed to put these topics at the top of her agenda. She has extolled the virtues of responsible cooking and eating on several public platforms, including this article in the New York Times: and if the health and good looks of her own family are any proof, I think I'll take the lady's advice: she is a '“a big believer” in community gardens that provide “fresh fruits and vegetables for so many communities across this nation and world.”'

Mrs. Obama is a natural choice to spearhead the burgeoning "Real Food" movement in America. She is already proving herself to be an important advocate and spokeswoman for the Obama Administration, and as the captain of her household, she can demonstrate for real Americans what it means to raise healthy children and to sponsor fresh, local foods. She's opened the White House kitchen to reporters already -- one can only hope for an advisory board position for Pollan sometime soon.

Obama's Green Policies: So what else is the President doing to achieve foodie-friendly policies in this shivering new economy? We all know by now that Obama wants to spend more money on green industry. He has been speaking out against unnecessary corn industry subsidies -- and oil mongers have also been feeling the burn. From Business Week:


Agribusiness interests, startled by Obama's planned subsidy purge—the President voted for the farm bill last year—are already mobilizing for a march on Washington. Lobbyists for the American Farm Bureau Federation are targeting freshman Democrats who make up some 30% of the House Agriculture Committee. Many come from rural areas and depend on support from farmers. Key among the freshmen to persuade: Travis Childers of Mississippi, Bobby Bright of Alabama, and Debbie Halvorson of Illinois. The American Petroleum Institute plans to battle Obama's proposals to reduce the industry's tax breaks through presentations to newspaper editorial boards and visits to Washington by top oil company executives and employees, plus drop-ins by ordinary shareholders. The messages: Obama will increase U.S. reliance on foreign oil by eliminating the deduction for drilling in the U.S. and put at risk up to 6 million jobs directly and indirectly reliant on the industry. "They are going to push more of the investment offshore," said Mark Kibbe, the institute's chief lobbyist.

And if you're wondering, yes, policies concerning energy and conservation also obviously impact the food industry. Shall farms continue to use fossil fuels to power their output? Will corn-based ethanol (a morally fraught energy source, to be sure) be encouraged as a way to get rid of ever-fattening corn reserves? How can boosts in green spending positively affect the food industry and the economy? Can tax breaks on oil companies really work?
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We're only two and a half months into the new Presidency, and it's going to take many, many years to fix our broken food supply. But action is happening, and hopefully these first tiny steps will lead to huge leaps for our economy, our health, and our good eats.