The author and activist had a couple of stand-out moments in last night’s crowded Democratic debate.

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt
Updated June 28, 2019
Credit: Miami Herald/Getty Images

It’s fair to say there was as much substance as there was over-talking during Thursday night’s debate, for the remaining half of 20 Democratic presidential candidates. Most post-mortem analyses pointed to senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris as the winners of their respective nights. Harris had the most stand-out food reference Thursday when, as multiple candidates tried to get a word in at once, cut through the din with a well-prepared line: “America does not want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.”

But another standout candidate — maybe more so for throwing all conventional debate talk out the window — was New York Times bestselling author Marianne Williamson. She was positioned on the far left side of the debate stage, but still managed to interject a few notable moments including a closing statement promising to take on what she characterized as President Trump’s rhetoric of hate with love. Part of her answer on lowering healthcare costs, however, was the only time that any candidate substantively brought up the issue of food.

“We’ve got to get deeper than just these superficial fixes, as important as they are,” Williamson said. “We don’t have a healthcare system in the United States, we have a sickness care system in the United States. We just wait ’til somebody gets sick and then we talk about who’s going to pay for the treatment and how they’re going to be treated. What we need to talk about why so many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses, so many more compared to other countries. And that gets back not just into Big Pharma, not just health insurance companies, it has to do with chemical policies, it has to do with environmental policies, it has to do with food policies, it has to do with drug policies…”

Yes, it was just a brief shout-out (to be fair, that’s all that many important issues got in either debate), but an important one that illustrates the interwoven ramifications of federal policies. Whether that’s which crops we subsidize, which foods and retailers are accessible to SNAP recipients, what we serve to children for lunch in schools, which small businesses receive tax breaks, how we label ingredients and products on store shelves, what we let manufacturers get away with claiming about such products, which chemicals we allow into our agricultural ecosystem, and how we fund and deal with outbreaks of food-borne illnesses in the supply chain. In the 30 seconds Williamson had to answer this question, the author didn’t have time to delve into the complexity of this issue. But over the course of four hours of policy discussion, she’s the only candidate who acknowledged the government’s effect on what we eat, and how what we eat effects so many other issues.

Throughout the debates, there was also mention of $15 federal minimum wage hike by candidates including New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and former vice president Joe Biden who expressed support the movement which has been largely championed by workers in the fast food industry, as well as for unions and restoring collective bargaining power. Immigration, as well, largely affects the restaurant industry and all 10 candidates who debated on Thursday night agreed that they would allow undocumented workers to utilize a so-called “Medicare for all” option or single payer healthcare plan, considering that by spending money and paying taxes in the U.S., those non-citizens would be contributing to the overall healthcare system. Such systems would, ostensibly, also lessen the burden on employers to buy into and provide health insurance plans and administrate those services for employees. There was also across-the-board support for immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented workers currently in the United States. South Bend Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg mentioned farmers as being on the front lines of both climate change and trade tariff policies, while Washington governor Jay Inslee cited McDonald's workers "slinging hash" when discussing the disparity between CEO and employee salaries.

The next round of Democratic debates, hosted by CNN, will likely include the same cast of 20 candidates, according to Vox, and is scheduled for July 30 and 31 in Detroit. Whether a discussion of America’s food policy will make it on stage is, of course, TBD.