The many ways the Obama administration changed food for the better


The first president to brew beer in the White House, visit Shake Shack in his free time, dine with Anthony Bourdain in Vietnam and invite Mario Batali to cook up an Italian feast for his last official State Dinner, President Barack Obama is leaving the presidency with a great food legacy. 

But beyond his tasty personal achievements, Obama has approved legislation to make America a better place to make and eat food, by increasing transparency in food labeling, improving access to healthy and nutritious food and creating a better atmosphere for farmers and food producers to thrive. As Obama's meals left in the White House are limited, here's a look back at the food legacy he's leaving with America.

Food Safety Modernization Act

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The Food and Drug Administration calls the Food Safety Modernization Act, or FMSA, "the most sweeping reform of our food safety laws in more than 70 years." Signed into law by Obama on Jan. 4, 2011, the long-overdue reform focuses on preventing contaminated food from entering the mouths of humans and animals, whereas previous legislation focused on responding to contamination. Progress! 

The FSMA includes mitigation strategy to protect food, guidelines on sanitary food transportation, produce safety rules, foreign supplier laws and preventative controls for food at risk of contamination. While food-borne illness is still rampant in the United States, data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that illness due to contaminants like E. coli and salmonella has decreased in recent years

The creation of MyPlate and MiPlato

MyPyramid, the version of the food pyramid many Americans grew up with was replaced with MyPlate in 2011. In this new dietary suggestion graphic, the USDA emphasized the importance of fruits and vegetables in a meal, followed by grains and protein and some dairy. These five food groups, prioritized by health, encourage Americans of all ages to reconsider what they put on their plate and how they nourish themselves with food. MyPlate's Spanish-language counterpart, MiPlato, offers the same resources in Spanish, an important move toward inclusivity in government advocacy. 

USDA leadership and support for LGBTQ farmers

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"The USDA under the Obama administration created many new avenues for folks in rural communities to start and run new agricultural businesses,"  Serafina Palandech, CEO and co-founder of Hip Chick Farms explained in an email. One of these initiatives was the LGBT Rural Summit Series, which provided LGBTQ-led food producers like Hip Chick with investments to help boost their businesses. "This investment allowed us to grow, hire new staff and meet the demand for organic and non-GMO poultry products across the U.S.," Palandech said. 

As it stands, "women and LGBTQ businesses have a very slim chance of receiving funding from investment groups across the US," Palandech explained, but this fund helped secure resources for organic, small and local food businesses across the country, which in turn, provides healthy, seasonal and organic foods for local communities.

"We desperately need new farmers to meet the demand for natural and organic foods," Palandech said. And not only does business and access to healthy food thrive with programs like this, but LGBTQ folks in rural communities, often targets for discrimination, benefit as well. "We should all care about improving the lives of all people in rural communities," Palandech said.   

Added sugar food labeling


In May, the Food and Drug Administration announced in an attempt to help fight the obesity epidemic in America, the government agency will require new nutrition labeling to disclose how much added sugar is in packaged food. The new nutrition label also requires by law that calorie counts and daily values of nutrients are based on portions people actually eat, so as not to mislead consumers into thinking an unrealistic serving has more vitamins or less fat or sodium than the actual serving size. These new laws will take effect by July 2018 for most packaged foods, over a year and a half after Obama leaves office. 

Michelle Obama's food legacy

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From her creation and dedication to the White House Kitchen Garden to her viral "Turnip for What" Vine, Michelle Obama's food legacy will long outlast her husband's presidency. Policy-wise, she's been a champion of healthy eating for children and those living in underserved communities. Her Let's Move! campaign to promote a healthier generation of kids, encourages wellness through physical activity, food and nutrition. Through programs like Chefs Move to Schools, and new agencies like the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, Obama has promoted healthy habits throughout the nation. 

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and beyond

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This law, approved in 2010, was just the beginning of a long legacy of both President Barack Obama and the first lady working together to ensure the health of all Americans. 

"No piece of legislation is effective in isolation, and the hallmark of this Administration was a coordinated approach to reducing childhood obesity through Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign — which mobilized businesses, communities, schools and families — and President Barack Obama's Task Force on Childhood Obesity which developed and implemented an inter-agency, coordinated strategy, identified key benchmarks, and outlined an action plan to end the problem of childhood obesity within a generation," registered dietitian Sarah Levy, vice president of FoodMinds, said in an email.

"Food is central to our collective quality of life and diet is the key driver, besides tobacco, of health promotion and disease prevention. So, it's fair to say that the improvements in the health of Americans will help keep our country secure and prosperous — not just for this generation, but for future generations."