Last week while I was lamenting the lack of a coherent “Food Party” to press candidates ahead of the first Democratic debate, a coalition of groups and food movement powerhouses were planning a full-on assault on the primary process. Plate of the Union launched yesterday with a press event that included Food Policy Action, the Union of Concerned Scientists and food movement leaders Mark Bittman and Tom Colicchio.
The central aim of Plate of the Union is to pressure presidential candidates from both parties to elevate America’s broken food and farm system to the level of core presidential issues. To do this they’ve enlisted polling firm Lakeside to conduct surveys of American’s attitudes about what they eat and how its grown.
This is a heartening and potentially seismic step. For years the food movement has made noise about making food “political.” But rarely has anyone sailing under the “good food” flag engaged in anything remotely connected to influencing election outcomes cycle after cycle. Mostly they’ve been isolated state and local efforts like GMO labelling, soda taxes and ethical livestock initiatives.
Organizing something akin to a “Food Party” starts with forming local chapters, meeting in church basements and electing officers who can cattle-prod members to stay focused on the Food Party’s message. An effective, disciplined organization requires leaders and dutiful foot soldiers. The bulk of the work is not sexy, but it requires everything from knocking on doors to packing public forums for candidates for offices from state legislature to president of the United States. It takes pounding a Food Party message into broader discussions until people run away at the sight of a Food Party canvasser. It takes raising money, commissioning polls, buying voter files, running phone banks, in essence, doing the very things that make any political campaign successful. There’s a reason it’s called political “science.”
I can’t overstate how important my time spent doing grunt level work like door knocking for campaigns was. That’s why I’m optimistic about Plate of the Union — if we’re going to change our food and farm system, this sounds like the start of how it gets done.