With President Obama leaving office on January 20, it's time we look back on his 8-year administration and acknowledge the major food policy changes our nation underwent.

Whether you supported the Obama Administration or not, it cannot be denied that this was one of the most influential times for food politics. We saw major changes regarding food safety regulations, higher food stamp usage, farmer subsidy and protection laws, reducing hunger among the families of our nation, and pushes for healthier food choices.

Food Safety Regulations

Each year, 1 in 6 Americans become sick from foodborne illness, and 3,000 people die. Clearly, food safety is a serious hazard. In 2011, Obama signed a hugely important piece of legislation, the Food Safety Modernization Act, which was the biggest reform of food safety laws in over 70 years.

This law aimed to prevent food contamination and foodborne illness before it happens, rather than just respond to contamination that already occurred. It established regulations for safe food transport, imported foods, training for employees of food production, and more thorough testing of bacteria in food.

In addition, regulations were needed to keep up with new hazards in foods not previously seen, such as updated pathogen standards on meat and poultry, as well as using updated science to accurately classify new E. coli strains.

Higher Food Stamp Usage

In 2009, the year Obama took office, 33.5 million Americans participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP (aka food stamps). In 2016, 44.2 million Americans participated, which is a 32 percent increase from 2009. The percentage of total Americans using food stamps in 2016 was 13.6 percent, compared to 10.9 percent of the population in 2009.

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Christina Valente

However, the average amount of money each food stamps recipient received per month didn't change much (from $125.31 in 2009 to $125.51 in 2016). Food stamps participation and average monthly benefit increased during Obama’s administration until 2012, where it peaked, and then has steadily decreased since.

Reducing Hunger

Food insecurity is defined as having limited access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. In 2009, 14.7 percent of American households had food insecurity, with 5.7 percent having very low food security. By 2015, household food insecurity had fallen to 12.7 percent, with 5 percent having very low food security.

This means that “7.9 million fewer people were struggling to provide adequate food for themselves or household members than when President Obama took office,” as stated by US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a 2015 report. “As our economy continues to gain strength with millions of new jobs, falling unemployment and growing wages, today's report just underscores that America is greatest when everyone gets a fair shot."

Farmer Subsidy and Protection Laws

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The Obama administration sought revisions to the Worker Protection Standard of 1992, aiming to give farmers similar health protections to workers in other industries.

This includes mandatory training for farmers handling pesticide equipment and improved methods of protecting themselves and others from harmful pesticides, a minimum age requirement of 18 to handle pesticides, and better record-keeping and follow-ups of pesticide violations.

In addition, Obama’s 2014 Farm Bill helped farmers to adopt better and safer agricultural practices, like not planting crops on erosion-prone lands or on wetlands, by providing farmers with subsidies. These payments enabled farmers to adopt these more sustainable, but more expensive, practices without driving up the price of the crops.

Healthier Food Choices

It goes without saying that Michelle Obama was the ring leader in the push for a healthier America during the last eight years. She launched her Let’s Move! campaign in 2010 to help combat childhood obesity by promoting healthy eating and lifestyle changes, specifically in impoverished areas.

She also helped launch Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), a non-profit organization that worked in conjunction with Let’s Move! to persuade food companies to improve the nutrition and labeling of products. 

Michelle tirelessly lobbied for better school lunches and nutrition education for children. She played a major role in the passing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a powerful piece of legislation that required the federal government to:

1. Make school lunches healthier with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less sodium and meat.

2. Stop schools from marketing the unhealthy vending machine snacks and beverages high in fat and sugar by replacing them with nutritious options.

3. Enable schools in low-income areas to provide free and healthy breakfasts and lunches to its students.

In 2015, the FDA banned all trans fats, but Michelle Obama had been working for years with companies like Walmart to remove trans fats and improve the nutrition of their products.

In May 2016, she announced a new version of nutrition labels, which emphasizes calories, serving size, and added sugars. This new label is set to replace the old label by 2018. 

Improving the health of America’s children was definitely a priority for the Obama Administration, which can’t be said about many other presidential administrations. 

As the Obamas leave the White House, it raises the question: will their legacy be carried out by the Trump Administration? Well, one special thing that the Obamas are leaving behind at the White House is the organic vegetable garden Michelle planted, which serves as “a symbol of the hopes that we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children,” according to Michelle.

Perhaps what Trump decides to do with this garden may indicate his intentions for continuing the Obamas' legacy with regards to food policy. It has a huge symbolic value, and it would be pretty depressing to see this beautiful garden die.