The upcoming mayoral election in New York City will result in the first transition of power that the office has seen in 12 years. Michael Bloomberg, the current mayor, has been the city's controversial but steady leader for three consecutive terms. He has been known in recent years for his contentious food policies, including the mandating of calorie counts on fast food menus and publicly posting restaurant health and safety scores.
Of the seven candidates vying for Bloomberg's seat, six of them appeared at the New School's Food Policy Forum last Wednesday to discuss their positions on key food policy issues, such as restaurant labor organizing, school lunches, the food stamp program, and soda regulations. It was free to attend, and the school's 465-seat capacity auditorium was fully booked within two days. There were 600 people in overflow seating, with countless more watching via live stream.
Food policies have gained a higher profile on the national political stage, and Bloomberg's policies—from the recently attempted "soda ban" to regulation of trans fat use in restaurants—have primed New Yorkers to pay special attention to local food issues. The forum's stakes were raised even higher last week, when House Republicans passed a version of the Farm Bill that excluded the food stamp program. Consequently, many of the questions posed to candidates on Wednesday had to do with those timely and pressing issues.
Christine Quinn (D), currently the Speaker of the New York City Council, is a front-runner for the seat and has developed extensive food policy plans for the city over the past few years. Anthony Weiner (D) and John Catsimatidis (R) discussed the importance of food service worker unions and benefits. A rundown of each candidate's food policy stance can be found here.
It will obviously remain to be seen how much the future mayor of New York will focus his or her political energy on food policy. But New York has often been the first mover in food-related initiatives that were later adopted by other cities, states, and even incorporated into national law. It seems that the U.S. is at a critical juncture with regards to food policy, as national attention shifts towards Farm Bill negotiations, the food stamp program, and the local food movement. Though most immediately relevant to the citizens of New York, this policy forum could plant the first seeds of national food policy.
About the Author: Leah Douglas is a freelance writer in San Francisco, and loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.