(UPDATED June 11) CHICAGO — Expressing support for immigration reform and maintaining nutrition standards in schools earned Hillary Clinton some spontaneous applause at the opening session of the United Fresh Produce Association’s conference and expo.
The former secretary of state, first lady and U.S. senator didn’t quite get a standing ovation from the more than 2,000 show attendees, though, when she took center stage at McCormick Place Convention Center.
Her speech came on the day of her new book release, “Hard Choices,” and Clinton worked the phrase into her remarks at least two dozen times.
United Fresh officials said recently they booked Clinton for the opening session before the book release was scheduled.
Participants in the Food Marketing Institute’s annual conference, which is co-located with United Fresh 2014, also attended the speech.
Clinton spoke in an informal style, stressing the importance of good nutrition and fresh fruits and vegetables. She lambasted the recent move by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee that allows school districts to opt out of requirements that boost produce in school meals.
But Clinton saved her strongest language for those in Washington D.C. who have worked to block immigration reform, saying she was “bewildered” by their stand. She said she understands why growers support immigration reform and said unfounded fear is standing in the way of ensuring a much needed labor force.
“Everybody I talk to personally, Democrat and Republican alike, in the leadership of both houses, know we have to have immigration reform,” Clinton said.
Labor issues aren’t the only reason she supports an overhaul of America’s immigration laws. She said some opponents of reform are afraid of what amounts to the diversity that built the country.
“They don’t seem to understand one of our strongest and most important attributes is that we are still a nation of immigrants,” she said.
Following her speech Clinton sat down for a question-and-answer session with Stewart Resnick, owner of Wonderful Brands, which sponsored the opening session of the trade show. Resnick, known as a supporter of the Democratic Party and Clinton, posed the question she’s been asked numerous times in recent weeks: does she plan to run for president?
She said regardless who runs for president in 2016 she wants the race to be a positive one, with candidates focused on explaining their visions for the country and their specific plans to achieve their goals.
Ultimately, Clinton gave Resnick the same answer she’s given the media: She hasn’t decided yet, calling the decision another one of those “hard choices.”
United Fresh schedule
United Fresh continues June 11 with the opening of the expo floor and FreshTech workshops, ending the day with the 10th annual United Fresh Produce Association Retail Produce Manager Award, which recognizes 35 managers from throughout the U.S.
The expo will be open June 13, and United Super Sessions that day cover retail and foodservice trends, as well as fresh-cut/processing issues and others.
A reception honoring women in produce is on June 13, followed by the Retail Produce Marketing & Merchandising Conference Reception: An Evening in Eataly Chicago. The Produce Marketing & Merchandising Conference continues June 13.