Voters looking for a reason to support or oppose a candidate will find new ammunition in the first-ever "National Food Policy Scorecard," created by a coalition of non-profits including environmental advocates, anti-hunger groups and activists including "Top Chef's" lead judge and restauranteur Tom Colicchio.
"I don't think the average person thinks this stuff through," says Colicchio, who sees a link between government policy and what families put on the table. "When you see people who are struggling, and buying fast food for kids, it's not because they think it's great for you. It's because it's cheap. And it's cheap because the government subsidizes corn, wheat and soy. That's what we're supporting with our tax dollars. What if we took that money and put it towards farmers growing fresh, organic vegetables?"
The new coalition is organized as a 501(c)(4) organization, under the name "Food Policy Action." A 501(c)(4) can actively lobby members of Congress and is not considered a charity.
The group rated members of Congress on 14 House votes and 18 Senate votes on issues including farm subsidies, food safety, nutrition, organic food production and anti-hunger policies. They also scored votes involving animal welfare and farm labor.
The members are generally aligned with liberal causes, and the new rankings are heavily tilted towards Democrats.
Thirty-five Democratic Senators received higher scores than the top-ranking Republican, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, while 130 Democratic House members scored better than the highest-rated Republicans, Rep. Jon Runyan and Rep. Frank LoBiondo -- both from New Jersey.
On the other end, 31 Senate Republicans rank below the group's lowest-rated Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Two hundred four of the 242 House Republicans scored below the lowest-rated Democratic congressman, Rep. Jason Altmire of Pennsylvania.
Colicchio says food policy wasn't always a partisan issue, and points to the close partnership in the early 1970s, between senators Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and the late George McGovern (D-S.D.), who died this week at age 90. That partnership led to a massive expansion of the food stamp program.
"They saw children dying of starvation, and they were furious about what they saw," says Colicchio. "They pretty much eradicated hunger until the 1980s."
Colicchio, whose mother ran a school lunch program in Elizabeth, New Jersey, notes that food policy wasn't even mentioned in the presidential debates. He says Food Policy Action's first goal is to grab a seat at the table.
"There's a problem out there that can be fixed, and if enough people believe this is a problem, then I hope those people can get their representatives to pay attention to this."