On Sunday Nov. 7, the Washington Post published an op-ed calling for a national policy for food, health and well-being. “How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on Americans’ health and well-being than any other human activity,” wrote its authors, journalists Mark Bittman and Michael Pollan, agronomist Ricardo Salvador and the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food Oliver De Schutter. “Yet the United States has no food policy.”
The idea wwas broad and ambitious. It was hard to imagine that anyone who cares about food would argue with them.
But there was one person who did. A pretty important person: Sam Kass, the executive director of Let’s Move! and the White House’s senior policy advisor for nutrition policy. Five days later, in a speech at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference, held at Stone Barns Center, Kass argued that to move further, food advocates must be more sophisticated and strategic. “We must move from these lofty theories that set unrealistic expectations about what change should look like to pragmatic, meaningful steps that reflect the political reality that we have to operate in.”
In other words: It’s time for the food movement to grow up. A set of principles won’t change Washington’s approach to food. Bills that can pass the new Republican-held Congress will.
Kass’s message resonated with me because six years ago, in the heady days after President Obama was first elected, I wrote my own op-ed in the Washington Post that made a similar point. Now that we finally had a president who knew the price of arugula, I argued, it was important to talk about slashing obesity rates, helping small farmers and teaching kids about food. But to be successful, the movement needed specific policy asks that a broad range of constituencies could rally behind.
In my latest column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture I report on what Kass says the food movement has to do to become a political force. And I steal an idea from Michael Pollan for what a good first step will be.
Read and let me know what you think.