Undoubtedly, election years always bring to mind important issues that the country is currently facing with hope that their solutions can find their way onto candidate platforms. While I hold my own political views, it's important not to get too wrapped up in individual candidates and personalities, but instead to focus on the real issues. As a chef and activist, I'm particularly concerned with food politics issues such as the farm bill. While some people may think being a chef only entails making enticing dishes and pushing the culinary boundaries, being a part of the food industry involves much more.
In essence, the entire food industry is the basis for one of people's most basic necessities: food! Without food we cannot survive, and that is why issues that affect the food industry are so important. Whether it involves less complex and perhaps hard to control things like rising food prices or accessibility to food in food deserts, or more complicated topics like a change towards sustainable farming or genetically modified foods, all of these concerns affect every person in the US in one way or another. All of this came to mind when I founded Food Republic earlier this year, since I wanted to create a new conversation about food issues that affect everyone.
While we as citizens can be tempted to debate specific issues like whether or not genetically modified foods should be outlawed, we can't forget that a large portion of the country is addressing more pressing issues like hunger, food accessibility, and food safety. Other more nuanced matters like the pros and cons of GMOs or sustainable farming are far from their minds. I always take the more natural approach to food and food production, and I believe that making fresh and organic foods available to all members of the community is important. But even this involves finding a blend between affordability and locality. What is the point of purchasing affordable organic produce if it comes from all the way across the globe? That example cancels out the benefit of organic produce, since transportation of that food hinders environmental sustainability.
One solution to transportation and sustainable issues that is emerging within our own cities is urban farming. Many local urban farms are utilizing lots left empty due to the real estate crisis, for instance, to grow local and sustainable produce that makes fresh food more accessible to communities. More locally produced food translates to more local farmers markets. Here in Harlem, that'd help counteract our own food desert, providing fresh foods that aren't available in food centers like bodegas and small stores. More markets would also stimulate the local economy. The next step is finding ways -- whether it's increased government subsidies or community-supported programs -- to make food from farmers markets more affordable to low income communities. Food stamps are redeemable at farmers markets, but the high cost of food means that food stamp recipients ironically get more bang for their buck shopping at supermarkets than at farmers markets.
Food accessibility, costs, and subsidies will come into sharp focus as the 2012 Farm Bill gets debated, and as Congress looks to cut at least $23 billion in subsidies. While cuts are crucial to stem the growing budget deficit, the loss of jobs in the food and farming industry, and reduction in food programs aimed at helping lower income families, programs such as SNAP (food stamps and school lunches), only hurt the population and can threaten the economy in the long run.
While national policies are important to tackle, we also can't forget how those policies and our own personal actions can affect other people and industries around the world. Recently, Food Republic reported on a new app that shows how some of our food and household purchases directly affect forced labor industries; the app allows us to calculate our own slavery footprint. Avoiding atrocities like purchasing from companies who employ forced labor requires our own consumer research. It's vital to give our business to companies who use transparency in their practices, since the more we know, the easier it is to make responsible decisions for our spending.
These are only but a fraction of the food politics issues that face our country. As the new year brings a Presidential election as well as a slew of U.S. Congressional elections -- 33 Senate seats are up for grabs, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives -- I encourage you all to research the issues that are important to you and to use your voting power to help elect candidates whose views align with your own.
Follow Marcus Samuelsson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MarcusCooks