Food and Politics: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Moms have been giving their kids the same advice for generations: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Unfortunately, that advice was lost somewhere along the lines on seemingly any and every candidate running for political office.

I’ve been in PR and marketing long enough to know that the way campaign dollars are spent is no accident. It’s much more effective to scare the living daylights out of people about the opposing candidate than to talk about what actually makes your candidate qualified for office.

You’d better not elect “Candidate X” because he/she will ship jobs overseas, sell his/her soul to promote the agendas of special interests, raise taxes, open/close the borders ….

Okay, maybe that’s a slight over-exaggeration. My point is that nowhere in those statements does it mention how the opposing candidate would be any better for jobs, national security, spending, etc.

The scary (and unfortunate) thing is that it’s much more effective to sell fear than it is to sell “nice”. Most people don’t have the time, energy or interest to sort through all the campaign rhetoric. Instead, they rely on the sound bites that are fed to them in mainstream media to decide who to vote for (if they vote at all).

The same fear-based logic is used in the growing debate about food. The difference is that while not everyone votes in an election, everyone “votes” for certain types of foods each time they go through the checkout line at the grocery store. It seems like more and more food activists and food marketers are spending their time and energy (and money) scaring people about other food production methods than talking about what makes their food fresh, nutritious, delicious, sustainable, etc. Somewhere along the lines people decided that there needed to be winners and losers in the way food is grown and produced.

And it’s effective. As a mom, I care about the food I feed my kids. But I also don’t have time to sort through every marketing claim or gimmick that rolls through my Facebook feed or shows up on Dr. Oz. The message of the day usually includes something about why GMOs are terrible … or why I shouldn’t drink milk … or why I shouldn’t eat meat from animals treated with antibiotics or added hormones. If the average consumer took everything they heard or read about food on the internet or TV at face value, they would probably choose to eat nothing at all.

There is no question that the people running fear-based political and food campaigns bear some responsibility for this negative marketing mess. They are competitive industries and anything that resembles middle ground or compromise is often seen as weak.

But we also bear responsibility as voters and consumers. We can choose to reward those who focus on the facts and run positive campaigns. We can also spend more time educating ourselves on the qualifications of political candidates or on the ingredients or production methods of the food we feed our families.

We also need to use our common sense and not take everything we see and hear at face value. If someone tells me we’re all going to lose our jobs or our taxes are going to double if a candidate is elected, I’m probably going to question the credibility and motives of the group paying for the ad.

In the same way, if someone launches a campaign to tell me about how terrible all the ingredients are in a pumpkin spice latte, I’m also going to question the credibility and motives of the person or group behind the campaign. A pumpkin spice latte is probably not the healthiest choice, but I’m sure most people (including me) don’t choose them for their nutritional value and will probably continue to enjoy one or two of them each fall. I know I will.

Whatever political candidate we choose to support or food we choose to buy, I hope we can find a way to stop slinging the mud and try to get along. It’s not always easy to take the high road and heed our mothers’ advice, but I think we’d be a lot better off if we didn’t have anything nice to say, we wouldn’t say anything at all.





  1. Well written Julie!!!

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