Elections and the Food System: A Panel

Ayana Crawford | 06.22.2016

Photos by McKenna Jacquemet.

“Why aren’t we hearing anything about food from our candidates and why has our issue fallen completely off the radar in this election cycle…. What I’m interested in is in the power of you and me and the people that we can inspire around us to bring this matter into the national framework.”

Suzan Bateson

Every third Wednesday Food First holds an open panel series at La Peña Cultural Center to provide information and spark dialog among Bay Area community members.

June 15th’s event was The Elections and our Food System: A Panel. The panel was led by local expert-activists  Suzan Bateson, Doria Robinson, and Christopher Cook. 


Suzan Bateson has been the Executive Director of the Alameda County Community Food Bank for 15 years and serves as the board chair for the California Association of Food Banks. She has shown an unwavering commitment to sustainably increasing the availability of fresh and healthy food in her community and is an active member for Feeding America’s Policy Engagement and Advocacy Committee.

Doria Robinson is the Executive Director of Urban Tilth, a Richmond-based community organization. As a third generation Richmond resident, Doria has dedicated herself to growing a sustainable, just, and healthy food system through urban agriculture. In 2010 she was awarded the Advocate of the Year and Woman of the Year for Contra Costa County for her work.

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Christopher Cook Is an award winning journalist and author of the acclaimed book Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. His work has been featured in “The Economist” “Harper’s” and “Mother Jones” among others. Chris has extensive experience in food policy and agribusiness and has advocated for real and hard-hitting changes in the food industry for over 15 years.

The panel explored implications of the 2016 election cycle, ranging from voter disenfranchisement and food policy work to the Sierra Club’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton. However, the topic most thoroughly discussed was the lack of attention candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump have given to food and agriculture during their presidential bids.

How can we, as food and agriculture activists, get candidates to bring food and agriculture back into the electoral cycle?

Panelists urged the public to build relationships with and hold politicians accountable to the demands of their own food and agricultural social movements.  They also called for activists to clearly define the path to food sovereignty by associating hunger with economics and economies instead of the more abstract “food access”.

In the end, the panelists agreed that the lack of movement on food and agriculture issues thus far in the 2016 election cycle comes down to a lack of dialogue – a lack of dialogue among activists that could help clearly define how we want the food system to change, and a lack of organizing that translates these dialogues into votes. Although many voters consider food and agriculture to be important, some have perhaps have felt disenfranchised and alienated from the political process, and thus have not contributed to dialogue and movement regarding food and agriculture. This lack of dialogue has allowed the candidates to slip by without presenting concrete plans on how they will address our concerns regarding our food and agriculture system.

After over an hour of dialogue among panelists, the floor was opened for dialogue between panelists and attendees. Kidan Araya, a representative of the HEAL Food Alliance, shared that the Plate of the Union, a partnership between several organizations, is making moves towards pushing food and agriculture policy into the national spotlight. Doria Robinson ended on a strong note by fiercely calling for a complete overhaul of the current system in order to grow and create a new one that will serve us all:


“We need to think on a whole other scale and stop flexing with this machine that’s just killing us….We get nowhere by using the existing language and the existing mechanics of the policies we are living with. We need to redefine the machine.”
-Doria Robinson

You can view a video featuring highlights of the event below: