The First Lady At The Top of The Food Chain:
America’s food movement is filled with thousands of well-intentioned groups that have often been at odds with each other’s goals. Writer Paula Crossfield highlighted this in a recent Huffington Post piece, Step One: Hone The Ask, in which she pointed out that it's difficult to know what to even request that the Obama administration change in food and Ag policy, because food activists have been so disconnected from each other, and have lacked definitive leadership. But as of yesterday, the food movement is in swell shape, because First Lady Michelle Obama has just become the official leader, and she’s laid out, in capital letters, precisely which food initiatives the White House believes need immediate attention, and where her influence is available to be used. "The Asks" have already been honed into a plan, into what can be regarded as round one of making profound changes in our food culture (Pic: Mrs. Obama with a snap pea, at yesterday's garden harvest event).
At an afternoon picnic, during a celebration of the harvest of the White House Kitchen Garden, Mrs. Obama delivered policy-heavy remarks that covered some of the most hot-button topics in food. While ostensibly addressing the Bancroft Elementary School fifth graders who’ve been helping her work in the garden, Mrs. Obama talked about food deserts, local food economies, food security and food justice; getting more fresh and nutritious foods into the USDA’s Child Nutrition programs; the critical issue of reducing diet-related disease; supporting local and smaller food producers; encouraging urban and community gardening. Of course there was a big media presence at the harvest event, but most news outlets failed to report how very far-sighted Mrs. Obama’s remarks were, how progressive and reassuring they are at a moment in time when everything about food is open to debate. Instead, mainstream media focused on the feel-good angle of the story, with headlines like It’s Pea Picking Time in The Garden! and Garden Party: The First Lady’s 73 Pounds of Lettuce.
The White House, however, posted all of Mrs. Obama’s remarks online—as well as on Youtube--because the issues she discussed are not only critically important on their own, but must be resolved in order for many of the President’s policy goals to be achieved, particularly his very ambitious plans for health care reform. Having Mrs. Obama make these potentially volatile remarks is a politically brilliant maneuver, since she’s currently enjoying approval ratings that are higher than the President’s. And delivering the remarks at a picnic--in the presence of the children whose eating habits have been permanently altered after just a couple of months working in the garden (which transformation has been happily recorded for all posterity by NBC, in the Inside The Obama White House TV special)--served to make “the plan” seem like a series of goals that are imminently possible.
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