The Foodie-in-Chief and The First Locavore?

These are my new titles for our President and First Lady, and I think they are probably apropos, in addition to being cute.

I find it fascinating how everyone wants to know everything about the Obamas–what they wear, where they send their kids to school, and what they eat, all being included in the exuberant public curiosity that follows their every move. I can understand some of it–after eight years of having a pretty uncharismatic First Family for Americans to look at, the Obamas are most certainly a breath of fresh air. They are a beautiful, young, and friendly couple with two really adorable kids, and of course, they came into office on a wave of hope and promise for a new way of doing things in America.

So is isn’t really surprising that people are focusing on what foods the First Family likes to eat. And, all of the media interest makes sense, because as the many new designs of sleeveless fashion can show us, the Obamas are now role models whom Americans seem ready to embrace and emulate.

When it comes to food, the Obamas seem to have come in favor of home gardening, local food, and sustainable agriculture.

How do I know this?

They are breaking ground today on the first full-fledged large kitchen garden on the White House grounds since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden during WWII. Local food activists, including Alice Waters, who have been working for decades to get a kitchen garden on the lawn of the White House for years are ecstatic.

As a symbolic act, planting a kitchen garden is a potent one. It harkens back to America’s agrarian roots. It ties in to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call for Americans to eat more fresh, nutritious food, and her commitment towards making such food more available to the masses. It shows that when it comes to her support of community gardening, and edible schoolyard initiatives, Ms. Obama is willing to put her money where her mouth is: apparently, she and the rest of the family will work in the garden along with some lucky kids from Bancroft Elementary School, who are helping to break ground today.

I have to say I am thrilled to see this strong symbolic support from the First Family in areas of local, sustainable food production and food self-sufficiency and security for our nation’s citizens.

As far as I am concerned, it is a breath of fresh air that has been a long time in coming, and I welcome the idea of a president and his family who are willing to get down and get dirty and help produce the food for their own table–just like many other Americans are doing.

Maybe many more Americans will try it, inspired by the Obama’s example.

And whatever gets Americans back into the soil, back into the land that sustains them, gives me hope for our future.


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  1. Barbara,

    First, I want to say that I enjoy reading your blog for your writing and recipes. Because it is your blog, I must admit to skipping your political entries as opposed to commenting just to argue.

    But I wanted to just make a gentle comment in response to this post: not everyone wants to know everything about the Obamas. In fact, some of us are quite concerned about the personality cult that has developed around our 44th President.

    I don’t expect you to change your writing or stop writing about your political passions, but please do not think that everyone in America shares your passion for all things Obama.

    Comment by freemo — March 20, 2009 #

  2. @freemo

    Oh yes, because there was not ANY kind of cultish, mindless ridiculousness surrounding our last president. That man brainwashed a lot of people in this country better than any kool-aid cult leader could have dreamed of.

    “Look into my eyes. You are getting sleeping. Iraq has nukes and we have to get em. No don’t question me. Sleep now. Sleepy.”

    Comment by Zeph — March 20, 2009 #

  3. I like the symbolism of it.

    This afternoon I was out in the garden doing some VERY overdue weeding of onion grass, and I looked through the fence to what, for the past five years, I have been terming as “the wasteland.” My neighbors have tall, tall grass back there, which periodically they slash down and half-heartedly clear for planting. Nothing ever does in fact get planted. The grass just gets chopped and then gets tall. Today, in a (more than half-heartedly) cleared area I saw sweet little rows of lettuces and bok choys. Wow. I’m envious – they have lots of sun, and my whole yard is in shade. But there it is – a kitchen garden right next door.

    I think more and more people are growing vegetables these days. And I hope the Obamas’ act inspires others to take the leap.

    Comment by Diane — March 20, 2009 #

  4. Oooh Zeph, did I touch a nerve? All I was suggesting is that not everyone is enamored of the Obamas…in response to Barbara’s statement that everyone is. But some people seem a little touchy.

    Comment by freemo — March 20, 2009 #

  5. Freemo, when I said “everyone” I probably should have said, “everyone seems to” in a more general sense. Because, judging by the pervasiveness of the First Family in the media, I feel safe in saying that a whole lot of Americans, and in fact people of the world are pretty interested in all things Obama–to the point where I am boggled, even as a person who worked on the campaign and who voted for him.

    I don’t see it as a cult of personality, however–I think it is the historic nature of his presidency that has people fascinated, and I think that is also natural in a time of uncertainty, for citizens to look up to a leader with hope. If you remember, after 9/11, people looked toward G. W. Bush the same way–and for a time, the man could do no wrong.

    And, in the vein of what Zeph said–at least no one has intimated or even out and out said that if you disagree with this president or his administration, you are a traitor, as was said of our last administration. That sort of bluster to me, smacks more of “cult of personality,” than having your face on the cover of 12 magazines at the same time does.

    And, frankly, I would have been just as excited if the Bushes had planted a kitchen garden in the White House lawn. Because, for me, the symbolism of it is what is working on people on a very deep level that can do some good for individuals.

    That said–I know not everyone loves the Obamas–the country would be a boring place if we all agreed–and it doesn’t bother me a whit if you don’t read my posts on food politics. In fact, I think it is probably better than you don’t, and we just agree to disagree and leave it at that.

    Comment by Barbara — March 21, 2009 #

  6. I agree with most of your points but there is one thing that bugs me – given the huge staff, large space, and vast pool of potential volunteers if the huge staff is already busy – why this is generally considered to be an effort on the Obama’s part. How hard is it to tell one’s staff to plant a veggie garden? The President and First Lady won’t be spending a lot of time weeding, and nor should they. They have unique placement and capabilities that they can best use mostly elsewhere. They should be spending a little well-publicized time in the garden to encourage the rest of us. (This is separate from family time spent there. With the pup, of course.)

    Which raises the question that *really* bugs me: why did so many First Families NOT have one of these?

    – Harimad
    who just laid out 15 square feet so my offspring knows food comes from the ground

    Comment by Harry — March 23, 2009 #

  7. According to a recent book by a former White House executive chef (“White House Chef,” by Walter Scheib), there has long been a kitchen garden on the White House roof. I can’t remember if he planted it during his tenure as chef to the Clintons, or if it was there before him. But whether the president chooses to publically endorse gardening and locavorism or not, the chefs certainly have.

    Comment by Christy — March 23, 2009 #

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