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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maggiepcs said...

First, I'm a new reader, and a fan! Second, on the obesity issue, I definitely prefer Obama's approach. It acknowledges that a huge part of poor nutrition in inner cities is not ignorance, but access to resources.

Marcia said...

On a pure food level, I have to go with Obama 'cuz he digs vegetables. However, I also don't have an aversion to mayo, salt and vinegar chips, beets, or asparagus (love 'em all).

Daniel Koontz said...

Kris, great post idea.

I have to agree with McCain on the ethanol issue.

We're trying to direct 20% of the US corn crop to supply an incremental 1-2% of our gas needs. That does nothing to cut gas prices, and yet it drives up the cost of one of the fundamental inputs into our food economy. That's why I'm writing all these posts lately on food price inflation! :)

What's worse is you have to apply still more energy (in the form of more fossil fuels) to the corn to boil it, process it and ferment it into a fuel itself. Because of this, ethanol is an indirect and really inefficient fuel source.

Casual Kitchen

todd helmkamp said...

I like how both are in favor of smaller family farms versus agri-corps. Obama seems to have a bit more concrete ideas on just how to even the odds. As far as the obesity issue, as maggiepcs mentioned, lack of access to nutritious food is a major hurdle in poor areas, but I like McCain's emphasis on personal responsibility where feasible. I am a bit concerned about Obama's continuing support of ethanol, because it's not a long-term solution and I feel that the money being spent on it could be better spent on research to find other methods of sustainable fuels.

Overall, I think I'd have to go with McCain. They're pretty much even except for the ethanol issue, IMHO.

Grumpy Misanthrope said...

Free trade will not solve the world's "food crisis." For one thing, all free trade does is allow agribusiness to force small farmers out of business all over the world, instead of just in the US.

For another, the "food crisis" is mainly born out of political corruption and totalitarianist regimes diverting food resources to support their regime goals than it is out of lack of food for the world.

McCain's aims are simplistic and foolish. He simply wants to further the system that we have had in place since Nixon's secratary of Agriculture declared war on small farmers.

Obama's won't have any practical effects that are better, but he seems to be on step to make small changes that can open the way for large changes later on.

Karen said...

Totally agree with McCain on the ethanol issue.

McCain sounds a lot like my husband in regards to food--"I don't do well with vegetables", at least he's honest.

All I have to say about Obama is, dude, Dentyne Ice is not a food.

Kris said...

I have to say, I'm agreeing with you guys on two issues so far - I dig McCain's approach to ethanol, and Obama's views on the urban obesity challenge.

It might be worth noting, as well - during the research phase I was especially surprised by two things:

1) Obama's agricultural policy was so well thought-out. I forget sometimes that Illinois isn't just Chicago, and that a Midwestern-based senator would naturally have clearly defined opinions on farming. His labeling idea in particular is a huge pro.

2) I didn't know McCain was so adamantly anti-agribusiness. I assumed someone tied to GWB's administration would be supportive of Big Farming. Enh. Wrong.

Jessica said...

I would have to agree with the comments and say that Obama being pro-ethanol is a little concerning, but at least he's considering says he's willing to change the policy if necessary.

I find it funny that McCain doesn't like vegetables. Wasn't he saying that we need to stress the importance of health and nutrition? Yet, shrimp are the only of his favorite foods that is remotely healthy. Talk about "do what I say, not what I do"

Amiyrah said...

"I don't do well with vegetables"? Uh-oh...he might have health issues in the future lol.

Dentyne Ice rocks! By the way....

Although I am a supporter of Obama, I have been concerned with his pro-ethanol ideas. Its the only issue that I completely disagree with him on. I do appreciate that he is willing to acknowledge that if our country is starving, repurposing the corn would be top priority.

Anonymous said...

Well, as for not liking vegetables, doesn't mean he doesn't eat them. My husband would not choose vegetables over, say, fried shrimp, but he would certainly eat them because he knows they're good for him. ;)

Broccoli isn't my favorite food, but i'll eat it because it's so good for me.

Aarwenn said...

I'm not surprised at all that Obama chose Dentyne Ice as a favorite food--the poor guy's trying to quit smoking! Gum WOULD be a favorite food at that crucial time!

I am also surprised at McCain's anti-Big Farming stance--and pleased--but I'll have to go with Obama's more thought-out plan.

Sofia said...

No arugula?! Barack, you disappoint me.

Adam Pieniazek said...

Hmm...I find the favorite foods of each candidate to be a lot more telling than any of their food choices. McCain talks that talk about promoting good food choice but certainly does not walk the walk.

Can't imagine him giving too much actual effort to changing the American diet whereas Obama is the personification of a proper diet. I'm still voting 3rd party though!

Nader's hummus FTW!

Envoy-ette said...

Do either of them drink alcohol? What about their meat choices? Anything excluded?