Petition to "Get a Secretary of Real Food appointed" in Obama Administration

Bonnie Powell, who covers the ethics and politics of foodover at the marvelous blog Ethicurean, says:

Obama still hasn't named a Secretary of Agriculture, which is one of the most important appointments in the Cabinet, overseeing a $94 billion budget that directly affects not just farmers, but public health, the environment, animal welfare, and so much more. For years this post has been held by shills for "Big Farma" and pandered to those corporations like Cargill, Smithfield, Monsanto, and Archer Daniels Midland with massive lobbying clout. As Nicholas Kristof wrote in his NY Times column "Obama's Secretary of Food?", appointing a reformer to head the USDA would send a "powerful signal" that U.S. food policy was finally about to become more palatable.

Kristof linked to a petition at that asks Obama's transition team to consider six candidates – all experienced, viable names of people who are ready and willing to serve – for Secretary of Agriculture who could potentially mend our broken food system. Already, after only six days, 36,000 people have signed the petition, including Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Bill Niman, and the Obama transition team appears to be paying attention. But for some reason, the current names still being floated in the media are not those of reformers at all.

Dave Murphy, a sixth-generation Iowan and the petition's organizer, tells me that he thinks if we can get the number of signers to 100,000 over the next few days, the pressure to choose someone from the sustainable agriculture and food community – not Big Farma – would be too immense to ignore.

Please consider signing the petition, blogging it, and/or forwarding this message to your personal networks and any list-servs you are on. Visit now to sign.

Sign this Ag Sec petition: It’s worth a shot (Ethicurean)



  1. Oh great an powerful Boing Boing readers, please sign your name! The agriculture and food situation is so under reported, more people need to become invested.

  2. There are so much attention and money given to issues that either aren’t real or that we can’t affect anyway, it’s nice to see some given to an issue that really is pivotal, and that we can do something about. It’s sad that such a petition is even necessary – a real leader would already be leading on this. But I applaud the effort.

  3. Not everything is a battle between democracy and tyranny. Slow Food is nice – it really is – but this overblown rhetoric just makes the cause look stupid.

  4. ‘Slow food’ can’t feed the world. You can’t grow enough of it, especially in tough climates.

    I’m all for organics, etc., but you have to be realistic about it.

  5. even it “slow food” per se is unrealistic, There are major problems with the food industry that need addressing.

  6. who could potentially mend our broken food system.

    So what it is it exactly that is broken with the food system?

  7. #7: See Kristof’s article, for one, or read the petition.

    I like the idea of a Secretary of Food, instead of a Secretary of Agriculture, but I think it slightly misses the point — we’ll continue to need agriculture no matter what, but the department needs to be beholden to the consumers and small farms as well as to Big Agro. The problem is the Big Agro. lobbying, not agriculture in general.

  8. The central thing broken in “our” food system is the skulls, bones and bodies of the animals that are being intentionally harmed and killed for human purposes despite the abundance of vegan alternatives. That killing is indefensible and no eco-reform will change that fact. And none of those 6 names will do a thing about changing that basic flaw. From the POV of the exploited animals it is merely a matter of switching from non-eco unjustified killing to a ecological but still ununjustified killing.

  9. ah yes Professor; the nub of it:
    “In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced food riots, and so far one government has fallen. Should high grain prices persist and shortages develop, you can expect to see the pendulum shift decisively away from free trade, at least in food. Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I.M.F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessor’s precipitous embrace of biofuels) and on Wall Street. They will now rush to rebuild their own agricultural sectors and then seek to protect them by erecting trade barriers. Expect to hear the phrases “food sovereignty” and “food security” on the lips of every foreign leader you meet. Not only the Doha round, but the whole cause of free trade in agriculture is probably dead, the casualty of a cheap food policy that a scant two years ago seemed like a boon for everyone. It is one of the larger paradoxes of our time that the very same food policies that have contributed to overnutrition in the first world are now contributing to undernutrition in the third”

  10. Yakta, eaten by us, or eaten in the wild. My only concern is how we do it.

    Are other animals, or even humans who live off the land, unjustified in eating meat, in your eyes?

  11. Food is one of the few industries left where the USA is a consistent leader.

    China grows the most wheat, but the USA exports more wheat.

    The most popular crop in the USA is corn. The USA exports more corn than any other nation. (One stat I read indicated that 55% of the corn grown in Iowa is exported.)

    We do import more fruit than we export, particularly citrus, but that’s because it’s easier to grow elsewhere and we can afford to bring it in.

    Sure, there are always areas to be tweaked and improved, but referring to US agriculture as “broken” is way off the mark. Grocery stores are overflowing with more food than we can possibly buy.

  12. @15 David Bruce Murray

    Due to massive subsidies and import controls which suppress the value of agriculture in the “third world” where all they have the infrastructure to do is farm (and would do so for low labor costs that modern nation consumers could easily afford).

    By the United States and the Eurozone not outsourcing agriculture abroad (and rigging the trade balance through the WTO), this situation was created where those inside the protected zones are overfed while those outside the zones are underfed.

  13. i love canada and all, but if Michael Pollan gets this position – i just may have to move to the states. amazing stuff, *cross fingers* it happens!!

  14. I just read on, it’s Vilsack, although stated he’s just another mouthpiece for farma-agri-big-biz as usual:

    “Here at HHG, we beg to differ. Whomever is steering Barack away from Vilsack is a genius; Vilsack (pictured) was excoriated here and across the blogosphere when his name was sitting on Ag Secretary contender lists; a petition from the Organic Consumers Association against Vilsack garnered almost 10,000 signatures.

    And happily, Vilsack has already announced that he’s out of the running for Ag Secretary. Ethical/sustainable foodists are hoping that Obama will put together a Team of Rivals, rather than a Team of Recidivists to direct ag policy, and Vilsack, like Harkin himself, would’ve been a major recidivist, keeping in play all kinds of bad policy on genetically modified crops, pollution-generating CAFOs, seed pre-emption programs….”

    I signed the petition and blogged it, but another sad day for raw foodies, vegans, or just people who want to eat real food, grown and processed the way it’s been for a long time. Our food, should be our choices. ;-(

  15. Two pretty conservative, not particularly environmentally friendly picks at once: Vilsack for Sec. of Ag., and Salazar for the Interior Department.

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