How a Trump or Clinton presidency could change the peanut butter and jelly sandwich as we know it
Of all the major issues this presidential campaign, one has attracted woefully little attention: how a President Clinton or a President Trump would affect the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Though America has loved the sandwich for over a hundred years, these two candidates could substantially shape the future of how the country produces, purchases and eats PB&Js.
Neither Clinton nor Trump have a dedicated portion of their website to food policy (Clinton has a published agenda for rural America), but their past statements, as well as their views on intersecting issues, speak volumes. Clinton wants to open paths to citizenship for undocumented workers, who are disproportionately employed in the food industry. Trump well you know his position by now.
From the outside, the peanut butter and jelly looks perfectly stable. The sandwich is more affordable and available than ever before. The average American will still devour 2,984 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over the course of a lifetime.
But a change might be spreading.
So, how do these candidates differ?
I. Who will make the PB&J sandwich of the future?
Even though peanut butter and jelly is a uniquely American delicacy, The United States is one of the world’s largest producers of peanuts, exporting, on average, 200,000 and 250,000 metric tons of peanuts per year. Additionally, the country remains one of the world’s largest wheat exporters, the chief ingredientin bread.
While most of the conversation about food policy in America centers around what’s going into our meals, little attention has been paid to who, exactly, is making it.
That’s why anti-immigration lawslike the ones Trump has proposed, analysts have warned, could have a powerful impact on the food industry and consequently on consumer prices.In 2011,when Georgia and Alabamapassed strict immigration laws, the consequences for farm industry were immediate and severe. Farmersfrom both states were forced toleave crops to rot after immigrant workers became too afraid to show up to work. In Georgia,56 percent of farmers saidthat it had become far more difficult to find farmworkers. The state experienced an estimated $140 million in agricultural lossesin 2011.
If Trump does indeed manage to crack down on immigration as promised, the agriculture industry including the crops that make up peanut butter and jelly could experience similar labor shortages, and consequently, higher prices for crops, making for more expensive PB&Js.
Clinton has promised to work on legislation in her first 100 days in office that would make it easier for immigrants to gain citizenship. If she’s able to pass reforms, it’s possible that migrant workers will stay on the fields, and agricultural prices, including the price of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, will remain the same, assuming all other variables remain constant.
II. What will it taste like?
Peanut butter and jelly may seem like a standardized recipe, but there are great differences among peanut butter and jelly brands.
In American culture, you’re either a mass-produced JIF kid or an organic Justin’s urbanite who prefers their peanuts sans glycerides and with fancy fontwork, thank you very much.
On this issue, Clinton and Trump appear to share (hypothetical) common ground.
“On sugar, Clinton seems more supportive of policies to tax the ingredient (presumably for health reasons) which would make the jelly more expensive,” Jasyon Lusk, Economist and Regents Professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Oklahoma State University, said. “But then, both favor ethanol mandates which probably makes HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) more expensive.”
Ethanol mandates reduce the available amount of corn for human consumption (but help turn out votes in swing state Iowa). Instead of being used for food, nearly 40 percent of the America’s corn crop is now being converted to ethanol (once considered a sustainable fuel) which has shown to increase agricultural prices, and theoretically, the price of peanut butter and jelly.
taxpayers heavily subsidize the corn industry
And thanks to the 2014 farm billand years of bills like it, taxpayers heavily subsidize the corn industry. That makes it far cheaper for the peanut butter and jelly industry to use high fructose corn syrup in lieu of real sugar.
Clinton, Lusk reports, “appears to favor current policies of subsidized crop insurance and other commodity programs,” keeping the current policies and prices intact. Trump has yet to make his position known.
Trump and Clinton seem to agree on ethanol mandates and possibly subsidized corn insurance. Under either of their presidencies, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich will remain as fatty as ever, and hypothetically, more expensive than before.
V. Will at least the labeling be cool?
Let’s not lie. Many of us buy peanut and butter simply for cosmetic reasons: because the peanut butter is in a mason jar, and that’s cosmopolitan and sexy. Or because the jelly is stored in a bottle that’s just such a blast to squeeze.
Neither Clinton nor Trump has any plans to impose state-regulated fonts on the food industry. Still, Clinton has been largely supportive of GMOs, some of which are involved in the production of peanut butter, and ambivalent about GMO labeling.
It’s plausible, though highly unlikely, that our adorable colorful Smucker’s labels could come with an unsightly (though informative) GMO label under a Clinton presidency. It is unclear if GMO labeling will increase food prices, or how much of the burden will be passed onto consumers. GMOs themselves may very well push down sandwich prices:
“There is no GMO wheat, but GMOs corn and beets produce sugar. These GMO varieties have environmental benefits and can lead to lower insecticide use; moreover they are often more productive (meaning prices would be lower),” Lusk said.
Trump has yet to publish any views on the subject, though he did once publish this tweet on the matter.
III. Who will buy our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
Americans love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches more than they love good old American apple pie (why, no one knows). But countries from all around the world are invested in importing our peanuts and our wheat: key ingredients of the American sandwich.
But both Clinton and Trump might make it difficult for us to export products like wheat. Trump, and later Clinton, both opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the most significant trade agreements of the Obama administrations. While lowering trade barriers might increase crop supply and reduce the cost of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, farmers may suffer as a result.
“Both seem to espouse a lot of anti-trade rhetoric of late. Trade has complex effects. A huge chunk of our wheat crop is exported each year,” Lusk said. “If trade barriers prevented that, our farmers would be poorer, but we’d have (at least in the short run) more wheat to eat domestically, which would drive down the price of bread.”
Clinton, once an advocate of NAFTA and now an opponent of TPP, has shifted her views on free trade this election cycle. It’s unclear where exactly she’ll stand in November, but she’s been fairly consistently pro-trade throughout her political career.
Trump, however, wants to extend protectionism even further, making prices for sandwiches potentially cheaper, at a cost to domestic farmers and the global poor.
Both Trump and Clinton’s anti-trade policies will make peanut butter and jelly farmers less wealthy and their sandwiches more affordable, though Trump’s protectionism will potentially have an even more dramatic impact on the sandwich.
IV. Will it be safe to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches?
In September, Trump released a statement that he planned to eliminate certain food and safety regulations, hoping to curb the abuses of the “FDA Food Police.”
“The rules govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when, the statement read. “It also greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill.”
Peanut butter and jelly may seem like the safest of sandwiches. But the product has been recalled before. In 2012, Trader Joe’s was forced to recall its Creamy Salted Valencia Peanut Butter after Sunland, one of their processing plants, was linked to a Salmonella outbreak.
Deregulating the FDA may potentially lead to further outbreaks, making one of the most innocuous sandwiches in history, slightly less innocuous.
Clinton wants to keep the FDA intact. Under a Trump presidency, peanut butter might be a little more dangerous . . . but doesn’t danger taste good?
V. Do the peanut and butter jelly dance
It’s less than a month away from the election, and the future of America’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich has never been more at risk. Will Trump’s protectionism make sandwiches cheaper? Will Clinton’s FDA regulations hold farmers back? What role will Trump’s anti-immigration laws have on peanut laborers?
The stakes are high, and the sandwich small. But if there’s anything to be learned about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich over the past century, is that it’s resilient.
Trump or Clinton may become president and radically change the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But no matter what kind of damage they inflict, or improvements they make, the sandwich, in all its glory, will continue to survive.