Why Sponsor of Local Farms, Food, and Jobs bill is not a FOOD candidate — yet

Food Vote 2012: National U.S. Survey
Survey of “community food and farm” leaders and other U.S. residents
Aug. 14 – Nov. 6, 2012
Week #7: Why Sponsor of Local Farms, Food, and Jobs bill is not a FOOD candidate — yet

Thanks to Alaska and Oklahoma for weighing in. Thirteen states are still unheard from in this survey — including 6 of the original 13 colonies. (I don’t know if that’s a meaningful fact, but it seems curious.)


Total # of responses: 167

# of States Responding: 37 + Washington, DC

No responses yet from: Delaware Georgia Kansas Mississippi Nebraska Nevada New Hampshire New Jersey Rhode Island South Carolina South Dakota Tennessee Wyoming

# of Congressional Food candidates identified and vetted: 2
Earl Blumenauer – Oregon
Tulsi Gabbard – Hawaii

B. Why Sponsor of Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Bill is not a FOOD candidate — yet

When I first started planning this national survey (back in April 2012), I did some preliminary research on potential FOOD candidates. Based on my April review of various Congressional campaign websites, I was sure that Maine’s Cong. Chellie Pingree (the House sponsor of the LFFJA) would be a “no-brainer” FOOD candidate.

As the Farm Bill 2012 discussions heated up over the summer, more and more notice was given to LFFJ, described by NSAC as the “federal ‘marker bill’ containing a number of key programs and reforms to help improve the 2012 Farm Bill by strengthening local and regional food systems.” In July, NSAC posted a status update page for LFFJ, on which they could chart each piece of the bill. (You can check it out: http://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/path-to-the-2012-farm-bill-lffja-marker-bill-where-are-we-now/)

Going live with this national survey on August 14, 2012, I was sure that Rep. Pingree was going to be one of the first FOOD candidates identified. Unfortunately, she was not nominated by a constituent until Sept. 19. Surprisingly, in reviewing Rep. Pingree’s current campaign website (October 10, 2012), there is no mention of FOOD on her issues page.

Last week (Oct. 11, 2012), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition announced a “major grassroots petition opening on Food Day (October 24) and culminating in a giant call Congress day on November 15. We want to reach a million people with our message – and aim for at least 50,000 signatures, leading into thousands of follow-up calls into Congress calling for a better bill.” The entire announcement is framed in the status of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act.

The purpose of today’s blog is not to pick on Cong. Pingree. In my first blog (August 21, 2012) I indicated that most Congressional members of Food Day’s advisory committee are not FOOD candidates. This includes my own long-time Congresswoman (and neighbor) Jan Schakowsky. I am using Cong. Pingree as an example because she is the chief sponsor of the LFFJA and she is the Host of Food Day’s centerpiece event, a conference called Future of Food: 2050 to be held in Washington, DC on Oct. 24. And yet she is not a FOOD candidate.

With 5 weeks to go in the campaign, it’s still not too late.

If Cong. Pingree (or any other Congressional candidate) would like to become a FOOD candidate in the 2012 election, below is my analysis, which attempts to
1. highlight what this survey thinks is important in addressing our current food system disfunctions, inequities, and emergencies
2. highlight how candidates’ showcase, bury, or ignore their FOOD interests
3. compare the needs with the candidates’ responses to those needs

Again, thanks to all survey respondents, especially for your many, many comments. This survey will be up through Nov. 6, 2012.

Food Vote 2012: National U.S. Survey

ANALYSIS: Why Sponsor of Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act is not a FOOD candidate — yet

This survey is an on-going attempt to develop some clear, basic criteria for judging candidates’ desire and ability to represent other people in our current transition from a representative democracy to a participatory democracy. I started with the following questions:

How mature is a candidate’s understanding of our most basic system — the food and farm economy?
To what extent does a candidate understand that food is not a widget, but the organizing principle of all life and all human society?

How mature is a candidate’s understanding of food as a civil right?
To what extent does a candidate understand the connection between food as a civil right and food citizenship?

How mature is a candidate’s understanding of self-government (the cornerstone of the United States)?
To what extent does a candidate understand participatory democracy as the only viable form of democracy?

How mature is a candidate’s understanding of the current disfunctions, inequities, and emergencies in the food and farm economy?
To what extent does a candidate understand that all current disfunctions, inequities, and emergencies in the U.S. food and farm system have been created by multiple U.S. federal policies? and that disfunctions, inequities, and emergencies in almost every local food and farm economy across the globe have been created by U.S. federal policies and U.S.-led international policies?

How mature is a candidate’s understanding of the connection between self-government and Food Citizenship?
To what extent does a candidate understand that “Food Citizenship” is a pre-condition for a successful, healthy, thriving human culture?

These questions turned into my definition of a Congressional Food candidate, for purposes of this election.

Definition of a Congressional FOOD candidate (for purposes of this survey)

1. U.S. House of Representatives candidate. A FOOD candidate is a person (incumbent or challenger) who is running for one of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives

Importance: The House of Representatives was designed to be the elected federal body most responsive to the people. This responsiveness is structurally built in to the Constitution: Representatives are elected every two years, and the House has the sole power of impeachment and initiating appropriations bills.

2. Heading or Subheading on campaign website. A FOOD candidate identifies FOOD as an issue or priority and states the priority on their campaign website in the form of a heading or subheading

a. As many analysts have noted in recent years, most FOOD policy has been subsumed under FARM policy (primarily the Farm Bill), which has been considered the province of rural farmers and rural legislators — not consumers or urban legislators. As the current “community food security” movement has grown in the last 15 years, this has changed dramatically. But cultural, language, and policy change is slow, and the reason for good farm policy is our universal need for FOOD.

b. Presumably, a candidate’s list of issues identifies his/her priorities of attention and also represents an understanding of how issues connect to each other. FOOD in fact connects to every issue and uses the most human resources (time and money) and non-human resources (soil, water, space, energy, etc.) of any human-made system.

3. Interlocking Issues (Food and Farm System). A FOOD candidate’s campaign language demonstrates that his/her commitment to FOOD refers to a set of interlocking issues that might be called “food and farm economies” or “food and farm networks” or “food and farm systems” — in other words the web of relationships among natural resources, eaters, farmers, food chain workers, and all other influences on our food — which is everything in the universe.

Importance: A number of candidates are single issue food or farm candidates. For example, a number of candidates run on rural development, usually defined as supporting agriculture. Some candidates are running on GMO labeling. Cong. DeLauro’s interest is primarily consumer product safety. Cong. Slaughter’s (NY) website indicates that her primary issue is anti-biotic resistance as a result of over-use in livestock production. All of these issues are important — as are many others. A FOOD candidate includes and balances all Food and Farm issues.

4. Community Civic Engagement (Food Citizenship). A FOOD candidate understands that healthy, resilient food and farm systems (that work for every U.S. resident on a daily basis) hinges on community-based decision-making in all areas of the food system, on a daily basis.

Importance: This measures the extent to which candidates promote participatory democracy mechanisms within the food system such as food councils, participatory budgeting, restorative justice, food and farm education, etc., and the extent to which candidates view themselves and constituents as Food Citizens .

Analysis of Cong. Pingree’s 2012 Campaign: Does Cong. Pingree’s campaign meet the definition of FOOD candidate?

1. U.S. House of Representatives candidate.
Yes, Rep. Pingree is a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Being a two-term incumbent, I think it likely that she has a gut feeling of how the legislative system works. But she is not so entrenched as long-time incumbents can get. Hopefully she still has a sense of urgency to eliminate inequities in the food and farm economy. That sense of urgency combined with experience is what is needed at the policy table.

2. Heading or Subheading on campaign website
No. No heading or subheading in this section includes the word FOOD. One has to dig deep into Cong. Pingree’s website to find any discussion of FOOD as an issue, or even any discussion of her sponsorship of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. Here are her major issues, as listed on her website (On the Record):

Supporting Maine’s Small Businesses
Standing up for our veterans
Cracking down on the big banks and credit card companies
Cracking down on companies that ship jobs overseas
Fighting for Maine manufacturing jobs
Ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
A clean energy future
Health care reform
Standing up for women

From this list, I would conclude that Cong. Pingree does not yet recognize FOOD as the leverage point that it is.

3. Interlocking Issues (Food and Farm System)
Yes, barely. Rep. Pingree’s website does have some language about various aspects of food and the fact that she sponsored a bill named “Local Farms, Food, and Jobs” suggests that she has an understanding of the comprehensive and complex nature of a food and farm economy.

4. Community Civic Engagement (Food Citizenship).
No, but I have hope. This is usually the most difficult criterion to meet because it has to do with participatory democracy (power sharing) rather than representative democracy (which is how our democracy was set up). Most government officials, whether bureaucrats or elected officials, are currently most comfortable in top-down policy-making. The entitlement tone of much grassroots and social service discourse reflects that sense of power inequity.

Cong. Pingree’s website language reflects that syndrome: “Create Opportunities for Small Businesses and Farmers” rather than “make sure the playing field is level, make sure everyone is a Food Citizen, and then stay out of the action”. Cong. Pingree seems to have a deep sense of community, especially as it relates to economic interdependence among entrepreneurs and local businesses. With the support of her Food and Farm constituents (and Congressional colleagues and their Food & Farm constituents), I think Cong. Pingree will develop some Food Citizenship platforms along the way — if not this year, perhaps in future elections.