Last week, we all had the chance to submit a question to President Obama for a YouTube World View interview following the State of the Union address. Questions could be posted online, and people voted for their favorites. The most popular questions would be chosen, and the president would be asked to respond.
I posted a question. I asked President Obama why it is cheaper to feed our kids Froot Loops than it is to feed them fruit, and what he was doing to reverse it. I had been disappointed that he failed to talk at all about America's broken food and farming system during his State of the Union, and I hoped my question would give him an opportunity to address it.
When it comes to really changing the rules that make food and farming so damaging, the president and his administration aren't going to lead.
With 142,649 questions posted, it was going to be a long shot. Then, I got a text message: 1,279 people voted for my question and it was selected. People wanted to hear our leader talk about what needs to be changed when it comes to food and farming in our country. We had the president's ear. I felt like I had won the lottery! That is, until I had a chance to listen to his answer.
President Obama didn't use the opportunity to answer our concerns, nor did he speak to our hopes. He didn't talk about how he was going to make it easier to access fruit than Froot Loops. He didn't talk about how he was going to reduce federal support for the crops that are most damaging to our health and environment, and he didn't talk about what he was going to do to increase support for a sustainable food system. The president didn't talk about taking on the massive consolidation in agribusiness that makes it cheaper and easier to get unhealthy processed food than it is to buy whole ingredients. Though he touched on it, he didn't talk about addressing food insecurity in any meaningful way and he didn't talk about the power of citizens as shoppers ... or as voters.
Instead, he talked about Walmart.
In response to my question, he told us that Walmart had just announced with the First Lady that it would be changing its labeling system, and highlighting healthier products, and that if Walmart got into it, then the price of healthy food would drop. Now, some reading this may think Walmart's increasing labeling and selling local, organic food would be a good thing, and others may see them as a wolf in sheep's clothing. I am not going to get into that argument here, though I hope to in the future. (If you are interested, Jane Black makes a compelling argument in favor of Walmart's latest moves. Anna Lappé makes a compelling one against them.)