First Lady at HHS: “Kids change quickly!”

Last week, ask Michelle Obama visited the Department of Health and Human Services.
One of the major focuses of her speech was healthy eating.

Towards the end, for sale she referereced the White House Kitchen Garden, and the impact it has had in changing the Bancroft kids’ relationship with food:

We can change the way that we see ourselves, our relationship with food and exercise, and we can pass on a whole ‘nother set of habits to our children. Their fate isn’t set yet. We still have everything in our power, because the other beautiful thing is that kids change quickly. Their habits are easily broken. They are so malleable, and they’re waiting for the right information, the right opportunities, and once they have it, they just go.

We’ve seen it with the children that we work with in the gardens. Many of the children in the public schools, they take this information, they understand it, they apply it to their lives, and they push their parents and their families to be different. That’s one of the reasons why we start with kids oftentimes. They are ready for change sometimes when we’re not.

The transcript follows, and as usual, you can read the analysis at Obama Foodorama.


Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release
October 13, 2009


Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, D.C.

2:15 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA: Hey! (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, all. Thank you so much. What a wonderfully warm welcome. I am just happy to be here. This is my first agency visit since we took a little break this summer, so this is the way to get back — started in the fall — coming to HHS.

I want to just thank Secretary Sebelius for that wonderful introduction. I think everyone can see that she hasn’t been giving — given a very easy portfolio. (Laughter.) You know, when you think about just sort of all that she’s had to deal with, and the grace and poise and intelligence that she’s brought to her position, we are all just grateful to have her on our team leading us, guiding us. And she is indeed a dear, dear friend, and I want to thank her for all of the work that she’s done — between health insurance reform, preparing for H1N1, and all the other critical issues that she’s laid out that HHS is working on that all of you are working on. I want to thank her and honor her for her work today. Let’s give her a round of applause. (Applause.)

But I am also here to thank and to honor all of you. It is something that I have enjoyed doing for the last nine and a half months that we’ve been in office, and that is to come around to the agencies, all the departments throughout Washington, and just to meet all of you and to make sure that you know, on behalf of the White House and our family, that we are so grateful for the work that you do.

We’re still new here. Nine and a half months — it feels longer — (laughter) — but we’re new. And when I come here, I come to listen, to ask questions, to use the information, the insight that I get from these visits, and take it back to the White House, to the West Wing, but also to help it inform the kinds of things that I do in my role as First Lady, because I know that many of you have spent a lifetime here devoting entire careers — some of you a few years, but many of you for decades — have spent your time devoted to the issues that are so important to this nation.

And in fact I think that there are few people behind us who have been working here at HHS for more than 40 or 50 years. (Applause.) And there is one gentleman in particular, Mr. Donald Abramson — where is Mr. Abramson? — who has been here for more than 60 years. (Applause.) And he still looks good. (Laughter.) Man, you know, I can’t imagine doing anything for 60 years. (Laughter.) But that’s why it’s so important for us to see all of you, and I want us to give everyone on this stage a round of applause for their dedication and commitment. (Applause.)

So we all know we have something to learn from the folks on this stage, right? But whether it’s fighting disease or promoting wellness; keeping our food and our drugs safe; protecting children and supporting families; or searching for the cures for the future; what you all do to help keep us healthy and strong is important — every single one of you.

And in many cases, it couldn’t be more urgent than now what you’re doing. And this is particularly true with an issue that I’ve taken on pretty vigorously and something that I want to just talk a little bit about today, and it’s an issue that doesn’t affect me just as First Lady but as a mother — and that is the growing threat of obesity, particularly childhood obesity, in this nation.

And I have pointed this out before, but right now — and I repeat this statistic everywhere I go — nearly a third of all children in this country are overweight or obese. One in three children in this country. And a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetimes. A third of children. And in the African American and Hispanic communities, that number goes up to one half. One half of those children.

This has profound implications for not just their futures but ours as a nation. It is a major public health threat right now, so just imagine what we’re going to be facing in 20 or 30 years if we don’t get on this issue. We have to think about what kind of increases we’ll be seeing in other obesity-related conditions like heart disease and cancer and high blood pressure. How much money will we be spending each year on the medical care, on the missed days of work, the loss of productivity? And how much will all of this diminish the quality of life for these children as they reach adulthood and then, you know, hopefully go on to sit where Mr. Abramson is sitting? (Laughter.) And what does it mean that medical experts are now warning that for the first time in the history of our nation — for the first time in the history of our nation — the next generation may be on track to having a shorter life span than this generation, than their parents?

And none of us wants a future like that for our children. All parents — and I don’t care what political party you belong to, what race, what part of the country you’re from — we all care about the health of our children, and we would do anything to ensure their health. Everyone wants to make sure their kids eat right. Everyone wants to make sure that their kids are getting enough activity. And everyone is working as hard as they can in their own homes.

But in many ways what I do know is that many families are starting to feel like the cards are stacked against them. It’s really hard to make sure that your children are healthy and happy and safe and well fed. And maybe it’s because some of — some folks are working on a tight budget, and they feel like they just can’t afford the kind of nutritious foods that are being recommended. Maybe it’s because folks are working long hours. Can I get an “Amen” from HHS?

AUDIENCE: Amen! (Laughter and applause.)

MRS. OBAMA: And they struggle to find time to make a home-cooked meal. Maybe they live in a community that doesn’t have access to a supermarket where there’s good fresh produce, and maybe the best thing that they have available is a food stand or a gas station or a convenience store to get their food. Or maybe there aren’t any safe places for kids to play, so it makes putting your kids in front of that Xbox a little more comforting and a little more of a better option.

Those of you who are parents, probably if you’re anything like me, you worry about this every single day. And many of you who are grandparents, who are in charge of things with your grandkids, are thinking about it.

And I know this feeling. You’ve had a long day at work — you know, I remember this two years ago before we got here. (Laughter.) While I was working and campaigning for my husband and trying to take care of two kids, I remember coming home from a meeting or from an event just tired — tired — (laughter) — and knowing that you’re going home to an empty refrigerator — (laughter) — and kids who are hungry — (laughter) — and fussy — (laughter) — and not wanting to eat anything you have in mind. (Laughter.) All they want is some pizza and some burgers, right? (Laughter.) And you don’t want to argue. You want a peaceful meal. (Laughter.) You want everyone to be quiet and just eat. (Laughter and applause.)

And it is in those moments — and for me there were many — where you just give in and just get that take-out. (Laughter.) Get them what they want. See “Drive-thru.” It’s like heaven. You drive through. (Laughter.) It’s quick, it’s easy.

As a mother of two little girls — and working mother at one time, in a job that gave me benefits — (laughter) — I can relate. And oftentimes eating out is the cheaper alternative in many cases.

So there was a time when I was living this life. And then I got a little tap on my shoulder from our kids’ pediatrician who basically said, “You know, you may want to look at changing the way your children are eating,” because he could see the effects. And I was shocked. I thought we all had our stuff together. (Laughter.)

But it’s a little startling when somebody tells you you need to, you know, rethink things. So you just try to figure out, well, where do you begin, what do you change, how can you change things? But what I found was that if we start small and not try to bite off too much, if we just added a few more fruits and vegetables into every single meal, if we cut down on sugary drinks and processed fruit — foods, that we could see some changes. And one of the things we tried not to ever do was be totally rigid; you know, just make kids so afraid of vegetables — (laughter) — that they would never, ever want to enjoy a meal.

But we worked on achieving moderation in our lives, teaching our kids about different types of foods, and what they do to their bodies, and eventually we got into a routine that worked for our family. And the biggest challenge was just figuring out where to start, and not letting it overwhelm you, or me. I’m talking to myself now. (Laughter.)

And I think a lot of families out there feel that way. They’d like to do things differently. They know there’s a problem. But when you’re already overwhelmed with so much, with work and bills and everything on your plate, it’s really hard to sort through all of the information that’s out there to figure out how do you fundamentally change things in a way that’s going to benefit your family.

But here’s this thing. So much research has been done on these issues. And a lot of it has been done by people who work right here. All of you have been working on these issues for so long. (Applause.) And part of the message that we’re trying to impart nationally is that parents, families don’t have to do this all by themselves. You know, they have all of you, they have all of us. We can offer them the tools and the information that they need to help them make the best decisions for their family.

That’s why Congress and the President included $1 billion for prevention and wellness programs in the Recovery Act –- (applause) — and that includes funding for initiatives that will give communities the resources they need to address the obesity epidemic in their communities. This includes $373 million announced last month that would be available for communities that put together comprehensive plans to reduce obesity –- $373 million — and that would include everything from incentivizing grocery stores to locate in underserved areas; it could include improving meals at school; to getting more healthy, affordable foods into vending machines; to creating more safe, accessible places for people to exercise and play; and a whole lot more.

But in the end, of course, our government and our communities, as you all know, we can only do so much. There’s only so much policy and even money can do. And no grant program can sit at the dinner table with a child, right, and convince them to eat what they’re supposed to eat. (Laughter.) But we say in my household, “Just eat it.” (Laughter.) “You’re not going to like it. Just finish it.” (Laughter.) “Get on with it.” (Laughter.) No grant program can make sure that the kids step away from the TV and set down those videogames and figure out a way to move their bodies. Ultimately all of that is up to parents and families. Ultimately we’re the ones who influence our kids.

But there’s good news: I’ve learned that, again, little changes can make a big difference. Little changes can make a big difference. Simply adjusting how we eat, like trying to cook one or two meals at home each week — not every week, that’s crazy — (laughter) — but one or two meals; switching from soda to water — pretty simple; adding a vegetable or a fruit to a dinner plate, making that more the meal than the meat or the rice; and paying a little more attention to what’s on the labels — again, not totally evaporating your way of being as you know it today, just little changes — and finding a way to get more exercise into all of our lives, including our kids. Walking instead of driving. Standing in front of the TV instead of sitting. (Laughter.) Small things. But all of this truly could have noticeable effects. (Laughter.) Small things. (Laughter.) All we’re saying.

But it isn’t easy to change old habits. That’s what we know. And it doesn’t happen all at once. It doesn’t happen overnight. But all of us want to live healthier lives. I know we all do. You don’t get pushback on this issue. We all want the best for our children. We just need the right information, and we need all of you.

The truth is, that’s why the work that you do is so important to this nation. And don’t ever forget that. The conversations that you can have — not just in your own families and your communities, but the communities that you work with, the folks that you come in contact through the work that you do — all of these little conversations, the steady drumbeat of small changes, make a difference.

So we’re going to need each and every one of you to stay pumped up, to stay healthy yourselves, which is why this program that the Secretary just mentioned, is a tremendous start. And I hope that every single one of the employees here takes advantage of it, because the best way to change your children’s lives is to see them watching you change yours, because in the end — (applause) — but this is an issue that we’re all going to need to work together on. And I am confident that we can begin to turn the tide on obesity.

We can change the way that we see ourselves, our relationship with food and exercise, and we can pass on a whole ‘nother set of habits to our children. Their fate isn’t set yet. We still have everything in our power, because the other beautiful thing is that kids change quickly. Their habits are easily broken. They are so malleable, and they’re waiting for the right information, the right opportunities, and once they have it, they just go.

We’ve seen it with the children that we work with in the gardens. Many of the children in the public schools, they take this information, they understand it, they apply it to their lives, and they push their parents and their families to be different. That’s one of the reasons why we start with kids oftentimes. They are ready for change sometimes when we’re not.

So I know that working together we can get this done. I want to thank you for your passion, for your commitment. It has been a pleasure to be here. I will be back soon. And get healthy! (Applause.) Thank you.

2:33 P.M. EDT

It’s National School Lunch Week. President Obama: “Every young American deserves access to a wholesome, nutritious lunch.”

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President Obama has proclaimed this week as National School Lunch Week (and every subsequent 2nd week in October.)

*Full text of Proclamation below or here.

*To read more about White House Chef Sam Kass’ visit to a school cafeteria last week and more, information pills see ObamaFoodorama’s post.

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

October 9, search 2009

– – – – – – –


Every young American deserves access to a wholesome, nutritious lunch. These meals prevent hunger and give our children the energy and nourishment they need to grow into healthy, productive adults. Since 1946, the National School Lunch Program has helped to protect the health and well-being of our children by providing them with balanced, low-cost or free lunches throughout the school year. This week, we renew our commitment to serving healthy meals that will prepare our next generation of leaders to learn and thrive.

The National School Lunch Program serves more than 31 million students every school day at over 100,000 schools across our Nation. These meals can be an important source of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, containing essential nutrients to meet the demands of a growing child. For many schoolchildren, itwill be their most nutritious meal — sometimes their only meal — of the day. This program can also teach children about the importance of good eating habits, which is vital to our Nation’s fight against childhood obesity. In the coming months, my Administration will continue our partnership with Federal, State, and local leaders to strengthen the National School Lunch Program. We must work together to remove barriers that prevent some eligible children from receiving meals, and update nutrition standards to reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Academic success requires hard work and concentration. Students distracted by hunger cannot match the focus of their peers. Poorly nourished students are also more likely to become ill, and miss class more frequently. During National School Lunch Week, we honor all those who make the National School Lunch Program possible, including government and school officials, food service professionals, farmers, and parents. By ensuring that every child, regardless of background or family income, is properly fed at school, we secure a brighter future for each of them and for America.

The Congress, by joint resolution of October 9, 1962 (Public Law 87-780), as amended, has designated the week beginning on the second Sunday in October each year as “National School Lunch Week,” and has requested the President to issue a proclamation in observance of this week.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the week of October 11 through October 17, 2009, as National School Lunch Week. I call upon all Americans to join the dedicated individuals who administer the National School Lunch Program in appropriate activities that support the health and well-being of our Nation’s children.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


* Photo from the campaign trail, May 2008.  Then Senator Barack Obama stopped for lunch at Luis’s Taqueria in Woodburn, Oregon.

Elmo, Michelle Obama, and the kids in the neighborhood plant a vegetable garden on Sesame Street (with a little comic relief from Big Bird)

Tomatoes, resuscitator cucumbers, lettuce, and carrots will soon be growing on America’s favorite make-believe street.  Michelle Obama is taking her gardening skills to Sesame Street for the Season Premiere of the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street!

Here’s a preview of all the gardening action:

First Lady Hosts Farm Fresh Spouses Dinner at G20 Pittsburgh Summit

Last night, ailment Mrs. Obama hosted the spouses of world leaders at Rosemont Farm, a working farm owned by Teresa Heinz Kerry.  Included on the menu were salad greens and apples from the farm, and ingredients from other Pennsylvania farms.

Honey from Charlie Brandts’ White House bee hive was gifted to all of the attendees.

* For more photos, visit the White House Blog.

* For more info on the dinner, visit Obama Foodorama’s post.

* And for more info on the honey gift, visit another intrepid Obama Foodorama post.

(Photo: First Lady Michelle Obama co-hosts a dinner party at the home of Teresa Heinz for the spouses of the G20 leaders in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2009. Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.)

First Lady inaugurates farmers market by The White House.

First lady Michelle Obama inaugurated the new FRESHFARM Market by the White House yesterday.
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At beginning of the remarks, she spoke of how the White House Kitchen Garden has exceeded her wildest expectations:

You know, when we decided to plant the White House garden, we thought it would be a great way to educate kids about eating more healthy. Right, kids? Vegetables? (Applause.) Yay for vegetables! But as it turned out, the garden has turned into so much more than we could have ever expected, and it’s a really fun thing to do as well. This has been one of the greatest things that I’ve done in my life so far. It’s just been a tremendous honor, and working with the kids in the D.C. community and hearing how they’ve learned and how they’re growing and how they’re sharing the information with their families just warms my heart and makes me hopeful for the future.

And it’s important to know that when I travel around the world, no matter where I’ve gone so far, the first thing world leaders, prime ministers, kings, queens ask me about is the White House garden. (Applause.) And then they ask about Bo. (Laughter.) Everybody, it’s the garden and Bo, or Bo and the garden, one or the other.

She spoke about her personal food journey, and encouraged everyone at the market and in the country to support their local farmers.

After her remarks, she made some purchases herself from The Farm at Sunnyside, a certified organic farm in Rappahannock County, Virgina.  Casey of TheWhoFarm now farms there, and had a hand in growing the very vegetables that Mrs. Obama purchased: two bunches of Tuscan kale, two pints cherry tomatoes, four Asian pears, one pint “patriotic” potatoes (red, blue and German butterball), and a half pint of hot peppers.

* For a nuanced report on the remarks and the market, see Obama Foodorama’s post.

* The entirety of Mrs. Obama’s remarks are here.

* AP Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta.

* Video courtesy of AP and Chewswise.

* Official White House Photo (w/ Casey) by Samantha Appleton.

The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden (A new video)

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Today, the White House released a brand new video about The White House Kitchen Garden, featuring interviews with First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Chef Sam Kass.

As Mrs. Obama explains, “The garden is really an important introduction to what I hope will be a new way that our country thinks about food. So that’s the story of the garden, and it’s been an amazing success if I do say so myself.”

Watch the video, and then please thank Michelle Obama for her incredible garden here.

By the way, in a previous White House video, President Obama reads aloud a letter from a home gardener, at the 4 minutes and 30 second mark:

Photo: Children from Bancroft Elementary School listen to First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack before helping plant the White House Vegetable Garden April 9, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton.)

Videos source: The White House Blog

Obama’s new idea: The White House Farmers’ Market!

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(Question begins at 1hr6min30sec, food part begins at 1hr9min50sec.)

President Obama said today that he’d like to see a farmers’ market right outside the White House.  He made this announcements to tens of thousands of folks in person and virtually during the Q&A at the National Health Care Forum held by Organizing for America.

TheWhoFarm visited the Dupont Circle and Penn Quarter FRESHFARM Markets both before and after Barack Obama was elected President.  Farmers were extremely excited about the prospects of a President eating homegrown food because they knew it would bring positive attention to family farmers and farmers’ markets in the DC area.  Not in their wildest dreams did they imagine a President suggesting a farmers’ market right outside the White House.  And not only that, President Obama eloquently explained the benefits to local folks and farmers, in both the health benefits and in boosting the local economy.

No word yet whether any of the White House bounty would be available for sale at the farmers’ market.

The Q&A transcript below:

Q Thank you.  Hello, Mr. President.  I’m Katina Rojas Joy.  I was a convention delegate.

THE PRESIDENT: Good to see you.

Q Prince George’s County, Maryland.  I have a two-part question.  One is choice — the choice that we make to eat the foods that we eat and the lifestyle that we choose to engage in.  And the second part — your family is very fit.  What do you and the First Lady and the girls do to encourage physical fitness, and what can we — not the government, not private corporations — do to encourage activity in the public school system and in young people?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, this—this is a great question.  Look, if—this is an interesting statistic.  If we went back to the obesity rates that existed back in the 1980s, the Medicare system over several years could save as much as a trillion dollars.  I mean, that’s—that’s how much our obesity rate has made a difference in terms of diabetes and heart failure and all sorts of preventable diseases.

And so what we want to do is to first of all, in health-care reform, in the legislation, encourage prevention and wellness programs by saying that any health-care plan out there has to provide for free checkups, prevention and wellness care.  That’s got to be part of your deal, part of your package.  And that way nobody’s got an excuse not to go in and get a checkup.

Now, even if we do all that—and there are a lot of—there are a lot of businesses out there that, on their own, are already providing incentives to their employees.  Safeway, for example, is a company that has given financial incentives to employees to make sure that they are taking care of theirselves (sic) and getting regular checkups and mammograms and colonoscopies and so forth.  And it has saved them a lot of money in terms of their premiums.

So there’s a—there’s a financial incentive for a lot of businesses to get in the business of prevention and wellness.

But you’re absolutely right that, even if we’ve got legislation, even if companies are encouraging it, part of what we also have to do, though, is teach our children, early, the importance of health.  And that’s—that means that all of us have to, in our communities, in our places of worship, in our school systems, encourage nutrition programs, provide young people outdoor activities that give them exercise.

And Michelle and I always talk about the fact when—when we were kids, during the summer, you know, basically, mom just said, “See ya!” after breakfast.  You were gone.  (Laughter.)  You might run in, get some lunch, go back out, and you wouldn’t be back till dinner. And that whole time, all you’re doing is moving.

Now, unfortunately, times have changed.  Sometimes, safety concerns prevent kids from doing that.  Sometimes, there are a lot of kids just don’t have a playground.  Little leagues may be, you know, diminished.  That means that, you know, we as adults in the community may have to provide more and more outlets for young people to get the kind of exercise that they need.

When it comes to food, one of the things that we are doing is working with school districts.  And the child nutrition legislation is going to be coming up.  We provide an awful lot of school lunches out there and—and reimburse local school districts for school-lunch programs.  Let’s figure out how can we get some fresh fruits and vegetables in the mix.  Because sometimes you go into schools and—you know what the menu is, you know?  It’s French fries, Tater Tots, hot dogs, pizza and—now, that’s what kids—let’s face it, that’s what kids want to eat, anyway (Laughter.)  So it’s not just the schools’ fault.

“A” – that’s what kids may want to eat.  “B” – it turns out that that food’s a lot cheaper, because of the distributions that we’ve set up. And so what we’ve got to do is to change how we think about, for example, getting local farmers connected to school districts, because that would benefit the farmers, delivering fresh produce, but right now they just don’t have the distribution mechanisms set up.

So, you know, Michelle set up that garden in the White House?

One of the things that we’re trying to do now is to figure out, can we get a little farmers’ market—outside of the White House—I’m not going to have all of you all just tromping around inside—(laughter)—but right outside the White House—(laughter)—so that—so that we can—and—and—and that is a win-win situation.

It gives suddenly D.C. more access to good, fresh food, but it also is this enormous potential revenue-maker for local farmers in the area. And—and that—those kinds of connections can be made all throughout the country, and—and has to be part of how we think about health.

There’s always room for more good, fresh food, so in the meantime, those in DC can grow their own and/or check the FRESHFARM Markets schedule and head out for a most enjoyable and sociable shopping experience.

For a breakdown of Obama’s announcement and the far-reaching implications, see Obama Foodorama’s post.

Follow Katina Rojas Joy, the woman who asked President Obama the great question on Twitter @krojasjoy.

Follow TheWhoFarm on Twitter @TheWhoFarm.

Thank Michelle Obama for her incredible garden here.

Photos of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., looking at and purchasing peaches during a stop at Stahl’s Farm Market in Ravenna, Ohio, Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008. Courtesy AP/Alex Brandon

White House Kitchen Garden lead levels under control

For the past few weeks, an absurd panic has been brewing with regards to the lead levels at the White House Kitchen Garden.

The original soil tests indicated a lead level of 93ppm (parts per million) safe by US EPA standards.  When those tests were reported in the media, some outlets threw a fit.

Since planting the garden, the White House has worked to remediate the soil on site, using lime, green sand and crab meal as well as organic matter in the form of compost.  Now, the soil has been retested, the lead levels are now at 14ppm, similar to lead levels in uninhabited areas.

Obama Foodorama has the full story here.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service has a list of soil testing laboratories.

If you have questions about Lead in your soil, contact the EPA’s Lead Hotline.

Photos by Brendan Smialowski for The New York Times

TOP: Bill Yosses, left, executive pastry chef, and Mr. Kass surveyed the bounty, including tomatoes.

BOTTOM: The White House gardening team has reduced the lead levels in the kitchen garden on the South Lawn by fortifying the soil. Sam Kass, far left, White House food initiative coordinator, checked the crops this week.

Thank Michelle Obama for her incredible garden here.

Michael Pollan’s latest thoughts on the White House Kitchen Garden (and cooking or the lack thereof)

Michael Pollan first called for an edible landscape at the White House way back in 1991, neuropathologist during the Bush I era.

Imagine an 18-acre victory garden on the grounds of the White House, managed according to the highest organic principles. This garden, which need not contain any broccoli, would stand as a paradigm of environmental responsibility.
The White House has enough land to become self-sufficient in food — a model of Jeffersonian independence and thrift. Alternatively, a White House garden could help supply food for Washington’s poor. Depending which party is in power, a few elephants or donkeys should be maintained for the purpose of fertilization.

Earlier this week, he was interviewed on Fresh Air, mainly about his new piece in The New York Times Magazine, Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch: How American cooking became a spectator sport, and what we lost along the way.

At the end of the interview, guest host Dave Davies and Michael Pollan had this exchange :

DAVIES: You know, last October, you wrote a piece in the Times Magazine called “Farmer in Chief,” which was an open letter to the next president – the election was still going on then. And you essentially argued that changing the way we grow and process food was critical to energy policy and, thus, a matter of national security – you know, the way we grow and process food at an industrial scale and transport it thousands of miles drains energy, pollutes the environment and harms our health. And you said that it’s really important for the next president to take a lead in changing things. How would you rate President Obama on the challenge of rebuilding the food culture?

Mr. POLLAN: Well, I think Obama’s taken some very encouraging steps. I think that Obama has shown that he recognized the links between the way we grow food and feed ourselves and the health-care crisis on the one side and the climate-change and energy crisis on the other.

So I’m encouraged by some of the rhetoric. I’m encouraged by some of the appointments. There are some progressive people in the USDA, the Department of Agriculture. And there has been the new agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, has spoken in, you know, very encouraging terms about the importance of local food systems, the importance of farmers’ markets, the importance of organic food.

So all that is very encouraging, I think. But, you know, frankly, the most important thing that’s happened has been the garden that Michelle Obama planted, which has had a galvanizing effect around the world.

There’s now a garden in Buckingham Palace. People are planting gardens all over America. You can’t find seeds in garden centers, there’s such a run on gardening. I think that’s a very encouraging thing. I don’t think it is merely symbolic. And by the way, I think it’s very deliberate on the part of the Obamas. I think they understand that before you can begin to change this food system, you need to raise consciousness about it because for a lot of people, the food system works just fine.

There’s plenty of cheap and abundant food. The fact that it makes people sick, the fact that it takes an enormous toll on the environment, on animals, on workers, isn’t really clear to everybody so that there’s a kind of raising of consciousness that needs to happen. And I think that Michelle Obama is playing a very important role in that. And then you can follow, one hopes, with a different kind of farm bill that would encourage the kind of fresh, local food that Michelle Obama has been extolling.

So, you know, I’m encouraged. I don’t see any evidence that they’re willing to take on agribusiness in any significant way yet. I think what’s more likely to happen is that this administration will take steps to educate people on the value of real food and cooking and that they will also do things to promote local food economies.

Whether they will also go after the large food companies, it may happen in the anti-trust realm. It might happen with the farm bill, but there is, you know, some huge obstacles to real reform at that level, beginning with the agriculture committees in Congress.

-Michael Pollan’s next book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma Young Readers Edition, hits bookstores in October.
-For more on the Buckingham Palace vegetable garden, see Obama Foodorama’s post, The ‘First Lady Factor’ In Action? A New Organic Vegetable Garden At Buckingham Palace.
-If the new Pollan article puts you in a cooking mood, perhaps as a service to military families, see Obama Foodorama’s post, Supporting Our Troops: The Michelle Obama Military Family Menu…With Recipes.

Oldschool photo of Michael Pollan gardening with his son Issac courtesy San Francisco Chronicle photo by Penni Gladstone.

Brainfood in the White House Kitchen (and Kitchen Garden)

The Obama administration is making good on their promise to open up the White House to their neighbors. The latest group to enjoy the People’s House is Brainfood, shop a non-profit youth development organization in Washington, vitamin DC. Using food as a tool, Brainfood builds life skills and promotes healthy living in a fun and safe environment.

According to the Brainfood website:

Over the past 2 weeks Brainfood participants and staff visited the White House and got a chance to learn from the White House chefs while helping prepare food for the Congressional Luau, Staff Picnic, and 4th of July picnic.

Using the kitchen skills they learned in Brainfood’s after-school program, 17 teenagers spent five days assisting White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford, Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and Assistant Pastry Chef Susie Morrison and their staffs as they prepared food for several hundred White House guests. Eager to demonstrate their culinary talents, the Brainfood youths prepped burgers, shucked corn, glazed ribs, and prepared desserts and garnishes.

Jane Black of the Washington Post tagged along with Brainfood and filed this report, which includes a planting update and a sneak preview of what Sam Kass, White House Food Initiative Coordinator is planning next:

Kass also treated the students with a trip to the garden. (On the way, they saw the Obamas’ dog, Bo.) Kass pointed out the lettuces and cabbage grown from seeds he’d procured from Monticello. He explained that the White House beehives are strapped down; otherwise the presidential helicopter would blow them over when it lands. Before heading back to the kitchen, they planted Sungold and Brandywine tomatoes.

The tour was a variation of the kind the White House plans to offer twice weekly to visiting school groups. Kass is developing a curriculum that aims to teach young students about how vegetables grow in the garden and how they can grow their own.

Photos:  Top photo: Sam Kass, far left, shucks corn with members of Brainfood; Andre Monroe, 17, Stephanie Blyskal, volunteer, and Carina Gervacio, program coordinator. By Melina Mara, The Washington Post.   Bottom three photos courtesy Brainfood, including Sam Kass at the “biocycler.