On October 8, 2016—exactly one month before the Big Day, the upcoming presidential election—Michael Pollan wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine: "Why Did the Obamas Fail to Take on Corporate Agriculture?"
Several of the big topics that Barack Obama and John McCain were campaigning on—including health care costs, climate change, energy independence and security threats at home and abroad—could not be successfully addressed without also addressing a broken food system.
The 2008 food system he describes was seeing an increase in popular interest in food that was organic or "natural"; obesity so common it was considered an epidemic; documentaries like Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc. that painted the system in an unattractive light; a growing understanding of CAFOs, GMOs, and trans fats; discussions of how exactly climate change was making itself known; and new awareness of the government’s financial ties to agribusiness. That is just some of what President Barack Obama entered office with in January 2009: The "broken food system" Pollan wrote about was more in conversation with political concerns like security and health care costs than perhaps ever before.
The hope was that President Obama would enact major change—eliminate obesity, especially in children; halt global warming; bring Big Ag to its knees; make “good” food truly accessible. (Or, you know, at least address the issues and take the first small steps toward better solutions.) Did he?
The reality is that while Obama’s administration did pass a good amount of food-related policies (perhaps more than any president since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s and 40s), defeating Big Ag has proved just short of impossible; childhood obesity rates have mostly stayed stagnant; we know more about GMOs than ever and are still unsure of exactly their effect, if any.
But even if Obama "failed" in the eyes of Pollan and others to fix a broken food system, food has become a mainstream talking point in a way it has never been before—and the policies his administration did pass (and, I think, his sense of humor) have paved the way for that.
Over the past 8 years, we’ve seen the iPhone’s rise to ubiquity, the birth of Instagram and Snapchat, the explosion of food trucks, the fury of Cronut fandom, the nation’s embrace of farmers markets, the demand for (and fetishization of) "farm-to-table" food, the shift from gourmand to foodie. It’s been a wild and varied almost-decade in food, one hugely affected by social media’s grip on anyone with a smartphone and a plate in front of them.
Of course, media isn’t the only thing that’s fed the food world during Barack Obama’s tenure as president—public health (and childhood obesity in particular); the role of SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps; the fight against hunger; and a return of interest in farming and homesteading have all fed and featured in both the national conversation and the policies that the Obama administration has made.
Here, a look back at 65 moments in food, 2008 to 2016:
"This is what you'd read if you came here from another country (or from another decade) and wanted to know what people valued in dining... the gnarly, punk-rock aesthetic, the in-your-face food style that dominates young cooks today."
A photo posted by Marielle Wakim (@marielle.m.n.o.p) on
What were some of your own memorable food moments from the past 8 years? Share them in the comments below.