Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Presidential Plate: Obama and McCain on Food

With November 4th looming ever closer, we Americans are being bombarded with political articles, ads, and (god awful) e-mail forwards, attempting to swing our vote one way or the other. The sheer quantity of information is mind-melting, and rarely very helpful: who’s more patriotic? Who wears nicer pants? Whose wife bakes better cookies?

Who cares?

I want to know the facts, man. I want to know what John McCain and Barack Obama have planned for my country, without all the obfuscating fluff. I want to know what they think about the economy and the war and well ... food. Insofar as this blog is concerned, especially food.

With that in mind, what follows is a brief guide to each potential president’s views on food issues. Obesity initiatives, agricultural policies, thoughts on the world crisis – it’s all here, with a slew of supporting quotes garnered from reliable sources (interviews, their websites, etc).

My goal isn’t to tell anyone what to think or how to vote, and the post is far from definitive. (With three months and 40,000 misquotes to go, I don’t know how it could be.) If I missed anything or got something wrong, let me know and I’ll correct immediately. Also, please note that the first word of every quote links to my reference.

(Oh, and for the hell of it, following the policy section is a short summary of the men’s favorite meals. If I DID vote purely on obfuscating fluff, I’d have to go with Obama’s “Mayo Hate in ‘08” campaign over McCain’s “Dude Food” platform.)


McCain: advocates a combination of personal responsibility and prevention: “Parents must impart to their children a sense of personal responsibility for their health, nutrition, and exercise.” He believes that government has a role (though perhaps less so than Obama), stating “we should again teach nutrition and physical education to our children, and better inform adults what our foods contain and the importance of exercise.” According to a May 15th statement, he also, “supports providing marketing tools for the fruit and vegetable industry focused on promoting healthier American diets.”

Obama: will focus on prevention and “[address] differences in access to health coverage” with seemingly special focus on promoting nutrition and play within urban communities. He advocates both, “physical education in schools” and “changing eating habits for kids.”


McCain: is an adamant supporter of small farmers. He “opposes providing billions to subsidize large commercial farms,” promises to extend federal assistance to farmers in the event of natural disaster, and will “expand access for U.S. agricultural producers to foreign markets, providing a great and lasting benefit to American farmers.”

Obama: like McCain, is a vocal supporter of small farmers, and claims he will:
  1. Implement a $250,000 payment limitation so that we help family farmers — not large corporate agribusiness.”
  2. Close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around the limits by subdividing their operations into multiple paper corporations.”
  3. Strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.”
  4. “[Support] immediate implementation of the Country of Origin Labeling law so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.”
  5. Help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. He also will promote regional food systems.”
  6. Establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. He will also provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.”

McCain: is super anti-ethanol. Straight up, he “will roll back corn-based ethanol mandates, which are contributing to the rising cost of food.” He supports offshore drilling to combat rising gas prices and claims, “the second generation of alcohol-based fuels like cellulosic ethanol, which won't compete with food crops, are showing great potential.”

Obama: Strongly pro-ethanol in the past, Obama is willing to reduce subsidies and repurpose corn for nourishment instead of fuel if the food crisis continues to worsen. He says, “My top priority is making sure that people are able to get enough to eat. And if it turns out that we've got to make changes in our ethanol policy to help people get something to eat, then that's got to be the step we take.”


McCain: wants to "[carry] out a robust Emergency Food Assistance Program at a time when high food prices are hurting the neediest among us … and indexing food stamps to reflect the current cost of living.”

Obama: supports a mentoring program for “all low-income, first-time mothers” called the Nurse-Family Partnership, and would create more like it, to “help improve the mental and physical health of the family.” He also wants to raise the minimum wage, and as previously mentioned, appears to be particularly concerned with food access issues within poorer neighborhoods.


McCain: is for free trade when it comes to the world’s food supply, proposing to battle the problem “through reduction of trade barriers and improved world markets.” On the science front, he’ll “direct the USDA to carry out a comprehensive research approach to help develop more drought resistant higher yield crops and increase production per acre. This will not only be critical to addressing our worldwide food needs but also necessary to combat global warming.”

Obama: will address the food crisis partly by combating global poverty in general. Among other initiatives, he says he “will embrace the Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty around the world in half by 2015, and he will double our foreign assistance to $50 billion to achieve that goal. He will help the world's weakest states to build healthy and educated communities, reduce poverty, develop markets, and generate wealth.”


McCain: shrimp, enchiladas, pizza, baby back ribs, BBQ

Obama: nuts, vegetables (especially broccoli and spinach), Dentyne Ice, Handmade milk chocolates from Fran’s Chocolates in Seattle


McCain:I don’t do too well with vegetables.”

Obama: mayonnaise, salt and vinegar potato chips, beets, asparagus (“if no other vegetables are available, he’ll eat it”), Soft drinks (he prefers water)

Readers …analysis? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Photos courtesy of,, and reddit.)


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