The Mark UP

On Food Day, a New Tool Helps Us Vote with Our Votes on Food Policy

Food matters. And not just because we all have to eat.

Food matters because what food we choose to grow, how we grow it, and who makes those decisions has a profound impact on our communities: the air we breathe, the water we drink, the land that grows that food, the people who grow and harvest it, and the animals we raise to produce it. That reality means we have a right and a responsibility to think seriously about what kind of a food system we want—and to push our government to support it. 

Now we have a powerful new tool to help us use our power as citizens to hold lawmakers accountable for supporting food that is safe and healthy for all of our communities. 

Today, in celebration of national Food Day, Food Policy Action released the first ever National Food Policy Scorecard with one simple goal: to rank members of Congress based on critical floor votes related to food policy.

The scorecard will allow regular Americans like you and me to see how our elected representatives voted on everything from hunger relief to food safety to support for organic farmers. This in turn will give concerned citizens and food system reformers alike the information we need to champion lawmakers who are demonstrating real leadership in advancing food systems that protect human health, animal welfare, natural ecosystems and our climate—and to hold laggards accountable.

So why does this matter?

Many Americans are awakening to the price we pay for the industrialization of our food production.  While our food system has been successful in producing large quantities of food at relatively low-cost, the price for this bounty is paid through unprecedented rates of nutrition-related disease, inequitable access to healthy foods, unsustainable use of rapidly diminishing natural resources, pollution that threatens local and planetary ecosystems, and environmental health threats to workers and communities.

Consider that in the United States getting food from our farms to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of all freshwater consumed in the country. At the same time, 40 percent of that food never gets eaten. All while 1 in 6 Americans today is food insecure, meaning that at any given time, they might not have the means to get enough food. 

But the good news is that consumers, opinion leaders, public interest organizations, and increasingly, large food buyers, are seeking food that is healthier for their families and for the planet. Just last month, crowds of people gathered in front of Trader Joe’s flagship NYC store to deliver a petition signed by more than 550,000 Americans calling on the retailer to only sell meat raised without reliance on antibiotics. A few months before that, more than 200,000 people, 44 hospitals, half a dozen businesses, 270 chefs, and more than 58 public interest organizations wrote the Food and Drug Administration to demand a better solution for antibiotic misuse in the livestock industry.

And the good news doesn’t stop there. We are seeing more and more evidence that our food system could look dramatically different from what we have today, while still producing enough food to feed us and remaining profitable for the farmers who produce it. A study released earlier this month by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that we can use crop diversification and smart, ecologically-integrated farming techniques to significantly reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides—and the resulting environmental pollution— in conventional agriculture while still maintaining yields and profits.

Empowered consumers and exciting, real-world solutions: that’s a powerful combination. Now we need more leadership from our elected representatives and more action from us as citizens, not just consumers.

While other national organizations have graded lawmakers on various policy issues, no group has ever done so on recorded votes around food. That’s why the release of the National Food Policy Scorecard is so exciting. We can now not only vote with our food dollars, but also with our votes.

So check out how your Congressional representatives are voting on food policy and make sure they hear from you on the food issues you care about most.

For more information on Food Day events happening near you, check out http://www.foodday.org/. And have a very happy and healthy Food Day!