Former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman talked about the evolution of American agricultural and food policy, the importance of resilience, and the importance of humor among public servants in a virtual conversation Wednesday.
The event, hosted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health as a part of its talk series “Voices in Leadership during Crisis,” was moderated by Walter C. Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at HSPH.
The conversation started with a discussion of early influences on Glickman’s career. Glickman cited his parents’ nurturing as an element that led to his success.
“I had good parents,” he said. “I was lucky – they were unconditionally supportive. They also had this incredibly good sense of humor.”
Glickman said the sense of humor he learned had often helped him in tense circumstances in his own career, for example when facing down rotten-food-wielding protesters. Politicians today often lack that aptitude, he said.
“If you look at our national politicians of both political parties, there are not a lot of people I would call warm, fuzzy humans,” he said.
Glickman also pointed out the importance of resilience in public service.
“You may be up one day, and you may be down the next day,” he said. “But the question is if when you’re down, can you get back up again.”
Glickman’s own career has been long and varied. In 1976, he was elected to represent Kansas’s 4th congressional district in the U.S House of Representatives. Two decades later, President Bill Clinton appointed him to the position of Secretary of Agriculture, in which Glickman served until 2001.
After the Clinton presidency, Glickman served as the director of the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School from 2002 to 2004, and as the CEO and Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America from 2004 to 2010.
The conversation also touched on Glickman’s views of changes in Americans’ relationship with food and in food policy.
“Consumers generally are much more interested in what they eat, where it’s grown, how it’s grown and what its nutritional value is,” he said.
The medical profession is also adjusting to consumers’ concerns about eating healthier, Glickman said.
“The medical profession, which heretofore has treated patients only once they’re sick, is beginning to become much more interested in how to prevent illness,” he said.
The conversation moved on to a discussion of the connections between agricultural policy and national politics.
“Everything is covered by politics,” Glickman said when asked about the politicization of Department of Agriculture programs. “There is just no way to remove politics from policy.”
Glickman concluded with the hope that the American public could put aside differences and support science-based health policy.
“Let’s just hope that we can get our act together as a country and get down on the right path,” he said.