NOSH Voices: American Food and the Federal Election (or, “Operation Asparagus”)

About the Author: Shane Emmett is the CEO of Health Warrior, a packaged food company on a mission to make radically convenient, real food and positively influence the diet and exercise habits of western civilization. Before moving to the food industry, Shane worked as an attorney.

The 2016 United States federal election season has been marked by its depth and thoughtful policy debate among candidates of integrity who demonstrate great mutual respect, statesmanship, optimism, and civility. Wait… wrong election. It remains a WWE match so far. I, however, am an optimist. I look forward to serious debate about serious topics after nominees are chosen and we head into the general election in November.


Shane Emmett

Amidst the rancor, one vital topic that has been completely ignored by the candidates is the State of the American Plate. Still, time remains to get this foundational issue front and center before November. What could possibly be more important to the future of a robust and vital democracy than the quality of the food we feed ourselves and, more importantly, our children?

We are what we eat, America. And we are not meant to be a country of Fruit Loops.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of five issues we should advocate. I took a three tiered approach to each issue: (i) identify the issue (ii) apply the issue from the view of an entrepreneur (at the request of the editors of this fine publication) and (iii) offer a resource for you to learn more and to directly support the effort.

Completely transform school lunch programs

  • More than 15 million US.. kids are hungry. They eat the majority of their calories at school. School food is largely nutrient-weak and processed. More than 30 percent of American kids are overweight or obese. Most schools do not even have the equipment to prepare fresh meals (i.e., they rely on microwaving everything). The average cost per meal is $1, including ingredients, distributor markups, and overhead. If you are in the food industry, you know exactly what kind of quality our kids are getting for $1/meal. The total federal budget for school food is about $16 billion per year. A new aircraft carrier costs around $10 billion.
  • Startup POV: the type of food available in high quality natural, conventional, club and mass grocers is simply unaffordable for schools. Open this channel to competition with stringent nutritional requirements and I guarantee innovators and entrepreneurs will get kids excited to eat nutrient dense food.
  • Read: The Lunch Tray

Radically overhaul labeling

  • In a country famous for marketing, it is tragic that we cannot find a way to label more healthful food and clearly identify bad food. Ignore the media back and forth about whether bacon is in fact good for you (it is not), the truth is out there waiting to be clearly labeled.
  • Startup POV: I have two law degrees and found the USDA’s published guidance impossible to follow properly when building our first labels. Unnecessary regulatory confusion is anathema to growth. Make it simple for entrepreneurs to convey what’s in their food and whether that food is good, bad, or ugly. Fast growing startups create more value and more jobs – they should be able to compete within a smart regulatory framework.
  • Read: This New York Times story is a microcosm of the big problem. We are fighting over all the wrong things. Sometimes you need to tear up the first draft (e.g., the USDA structure?) and start over.

Re-direct subsidies to encourage nutrient dense and diverse crop growth

  • Subsidies at present go to corn and soy mono-crops that are lacking in nutrient density and cause environmental degradation. Most of these crops are then highly processed into packaged foods or fed to cows or cars. This is insane on its face.
  • Startup POV: “specialty crops” (fruits and vegetables – even the label is pejorative) are notoriously hard to grow and sell for a sustainable, attractive business model. If federal subsidies supported these specialty crops, it would be a revolution in agriculture, food, and American health. Heck, even if they leveled the playing field it would drive change.
  • Watch: Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Massively address the lack of accessibility to healthy foods.

  • If the only store you can walk to is a convenience store or gas station and you rely on public transportation, that’s where you will get your food. The federal government can’t do everything, but national candidates can certainly celebrate local heroes.
  • Startup POV: the main POV from this startup is that this (and many of the other issues identified here) is shameful and cannot stand. The measure of a great civilization is how it cares for less fortunate citizens. We partner with a private enterprise offering an inspiring solution – see below. The Daily Table is a big, bold idea.
  • Learn about the Daily Table.

Create a National Food Policy Director position in the White House

  • The USDA’s mandate to sell more corn, soy, pork, and beef contradicts our national nutritional interests and the USDA’s other mandates to (i) regulate nutrition labeling (including the Child Nutrition Labeling Program) (ii) direct funding for nutrition research, and (iii) publish the national food guidelines, pyramid/plate: i.e., the entity in charge of telling Americans what to eat is also in charge of selling more and more food that Americans should be eating in moderation. This is just one example of a national food policy that is all over the map. Let’s ensure our country has a single food strategy that as smart and important as our national defense strategy. Because they are the same thing.
  • Read the National Food Policy proposal and Too Fat to Fight

The greatest dangers to American lives are not ISIL or immigration. The greatest dangers to American lives are – by far – cardiovascular diseases and cancer. The number one cause of the greatest dangers to Americans is our poor diet. The number one solution is eating more whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. The number two solution is more exercise. We can do this! But the national food deck is currently stacked against us.

Tremendous ink has been spilled identifying these core problems. It’s time for solutions. Time to build healthy federal food habits. Health Warrior is our small private sector part of the solution, but this is a very big problem. But let’s call it an enormous opportunity. Better health builds stronger societies. Individual action catalyzes collective momentum. Let’s light a fire under our next crop of national leaders.

At Project NOSH and BevNET we pride ourselves on having a robust network of food and beverage entrepreneurs, industry insiders and advisers. To that effect, NOSH Voices is a series of columns by respected experts to provide a spectrum of points of view from within the community. Interested in contributing as a NOSH voice? Contact the Editors.

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