In many states and cities next Tuesday is an election day. Eat Drink Vote reminds us that food is political because our votes affect what we eat. The food and agricultural companies know this and they invest heavily in campaigns to encourage the election of politicians who will protect their interests and profits. For consumers, the challenge is to overcome this well organized and well-funded influence in order to elect politicians who will encourage a food system that is healthier for people and the planet.
As a result of the growing awareness of the vote-food connection, more candidates are speaking about food policy. For example, in August Marion Nestle moderated a food forum for mayoral candidates in New York City. Hopefully, this type of forum will become more prevalent in elections for local, state and national political offices.
Another example of the politics of food is seen in elections related to initiatives, specifically those related to GMOs. These elections provide a crystal clear example of how food and ag comapnies organize and spend to protect their profits and interests. One of the first of GMO initiative elections was in California, Proposition 37, a 2012 initiative related to the labeling of genetically engineered food. The initiative lost - narrowly - after opponents - largely out-of-state - provided nearly $44 million for opposition advertising. The supporters were able to raise just $7.3 million so that they were outspent by more than 5 to 1. Who were the opponents? Big spenders included Monsanto, Kraft, PepsiCo - and given that it is Halloween today, it should also be noted that large candy manufacturers (Hershey, Nestle and Mars) also contributed to defeat Prop 37.
This election brings us a similar initiative and pattern. This time the initiative is I-522 and the state is Washington. The spending ratio between opponents and supporters is similar as is the influence of out-of-state money - and even more is being spent than in California on a per voter basis. More about this will follow in the next few days as more news about spending in Washington comes in.