At the start of the Obama administration, the newly minted president, the same one who quoted Michael Pollan, immediately and disappointingly set about enforcing the food and farm policy status quo. To some political analysts, this came as absolutely no surprise. Ezra Klein, who now writes for the Washington Post but was blogging for the American Prospect at the time, explained the dynamics of the situation:
The broader community of folks who eat food -- all of us, more or less -- don't clearly see the connection between policy and plate and so pay little attention to federal action. Our interests are largely lost because there's little in the way of political reward for serving the silent. Expecting Obama to change that because he read a magazine article is a sucker's bet. Obama's picks are traditional because he's a rational politician, and he's subject to the same incentives all politicians are subject to. The answer isn't in better, or more enlightened, politicians. It's in changing the surrounding political incentives. People who want farm policy to become food policy need to find ways to become louder.
This has been the great challenge for the “food movement” ever since. In last week’s food issue of the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan himself points to the greatest opportunity yet for the movement to raise its voice -- passage of California’s GMO labeling referendum, or Prop 37. For the movement, says Pollan, the ballot measure is “something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.”
The food companies understand the importance of this moment as well as, if not better than, the proposition’s supporters, and Big Food is flooding the airwaves with a torrent of advertising in hopes of drowning out the activists. Led by Monsanto’s $7 million donation, opponents of Prop 37 have spent over $34 million in an ad blitz that has been effective, if not exactly accurate. According to one survey, support for the proposition has dropped from 61-25 in favor of the measure a few weeks ago, to a mere 48-40 in favor now.