When Donald Trump was elected president, American consumer protection groups, food safety advocates and commentators were “on high alert.” Two months prior, his campaign had posted—and later deleted—an online fact sheet that highlighted a number of “regulations to be eliminated” under his proposed economic plan.
The document read in part:
The FDA Food Police, which [sic] dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food. The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when. It also greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.
Now, with Trump’s first year in office characterized by tumult and scandal (including the FBI’s ongoing Russia probe, his response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and his continuous goading of North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, etc.) it is understandable that concerns about America’s food supply have been sidelined. To paraphrase food writer Mark Bittman, how relevant are food issues when the need to defend basic democracy is far greater?
As it turns out, very—the two have been inextricably linked since the emergence of the modern food industry at the turn of the 20th century. Then, as now, lax regulatory legislation combined with rampant consumer fear has allowed corporate interests to redirect conversations about food safety and position themselves as the best solution to the problem.
In the months after November 2016, Bittman reconsidered his position, telling New York magazine in June that “good food can define a democracy.” He's right—food issues profoundly affect everyone across class, gender, racial, and political lines—and it is time to give them the attention they deserve. In an era when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are increasingly compromised, and workers in the American food industry are often poorly paid and under-protected, advocates and commentators must consciously work to dismantle the elitism that so often surrounds cultural discussions about food in the United States.