Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Harvest Time at the White House Garden

This week, Michelle Obama welcomed children from D.C. schools to come help harvest the bounty from the White House Kitchen Garden. These same kids helped start the garden, after all, so its only fitting that they get to reap what they sowed!

The harvesting will go on throughout the season and this recent crop mostly consisted of lettuces and herbs. The veggies will be a bit latter in the season (as will my veggies, though I did get a yellow squash from my garden this week). The kids helped make salad with homemade dressing and they learned to roast chicken, seasoned with fresh herbs from the garden.

Not all observers were happy. Maureen Dowd (probably one of the most vapid individuals to ever get a coveted opinions column at the NY Times) opined:

"Even as he grows arugula in the White House vegetable garden, Barack Obama never again wants to be seen as the hoity-toity guy fretting over the price of arugula at Whole Foods. That is why the president ends up sending mixed signals on food."

What are these mixed signals, you might ask? Well according to Dowd, Obama and Michelle have also indulged in the occasional "regular guy meal" aka a cheese burger and fries. Obama is well known for eating healthfully on the campaign trail and one of his aides joked that he (Obama) would be happy with salmon, brown rice, and broccoli everyday.

Hello, the occasional indulgence tempered by general healthy eating is called: A BALANCED LIFESTYLE. This is not a "mixed message," Ms. Dowd. You are just trying to conflate balanced eating with political disingenousness, a theme you seem to carry over into all your "cultural" criticisms of Democrats (don't forget, a big part of her career was made as someone claiming to be a Democrat who just happened to hate the Clintons).

After citing the usual scare statistics about how fat and lazy Americans are, she then lectures Obama on having the tenacity to ever eat a burger on camera. She says:

"The president should forgo the photo-op of the grease-stained bovine bag and take the TV stars out for what he really wants and America really needs: some steamed fish with a side of snap peas."

This "essay" is fairly incoherent. Dowd seems to be shocked that people can actually eat healthfully most of the time and have a burger on occasion. Then she tries to prove that Obama is a dietary liar, accusing him of fey eating habits, it seems, and then posing with greasy food. Then she lectures the President on not putting forward his healthy eating habits front and center, even while his wife sponsors an organic kitchen garden, promotes healthy eating among children, and talks about local agriculture. Its all really ridiculous and a shame that such an incoherent hater gets so much press space.

Another critic of Michelle's gardening project is Jeffrey Stier of the American Council on Science and Health, a stooge for big-agribusiness. His quote is laughable, so I have to share it in full:

"People are going to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Cancer rates will go up. Obesity rates will go up. I think if we decide to eat only locally grown food, we're going to have a lot of starvation."

He actually claims that the local food movement will result in starvation and cancer--ha. So, eating fresh, organic, local ingredients will kill us all, huh? Essentially, he's saying that the local food movement will try to totally dismantle the current world wide food market, commodity crops, and big-agribusinesses grip on our food system. Goodness, I could only hope so. Obviously some of what we've created in terms of international and national food systems is good--getting produce to Alaska in winter is nice, nicer if it wasn't totally dependent on fossil fuels, but still, 100% local, everywhere is not the local food movement's aim. Like with our energy market, a mixed methods approach is best for agriculture as well. Stier's quote is laugable, yes, but it is a sign that big-agribusiness is starting to try to fight local initiatives, coops, and CSA's. How they might do this, besides the recent HFCS ads and Monsanto campaigns, could also include the legislative process to try to make it harder and harder for home gardening, family farms and small farming operations, which is a real threat. But with an ally like Michelle Obama, and her garden behind us, well, yes we can win this battle for our health!


  1. In defense of crazy, those who are super dieters say that once they start on a "healthy" lifestyle. Even the smell of McDonald's or other fast food will make them sick.

    I eat a lot of salads but a Big Mac has never stop tasting good to me.

    Therefore, if Dowd is part of the crowd that believes healthy eating will cause you to have an aversion to fat, salt, and other. Then she has a point of the hypcrisy of eating a balance diet of healthy foods and treats like fast food.

    My biggest problem about the White House Garden is that is implies that the rest of America has all this yard space to start planting.

    I live in NYC in a 400 sq. ft apartment with a concrete backyard. Tell me what I can grow. Please note: that a concrete backyard is a luxury in a place were any space is at a preimum.

  2. You could grow container tomatoes. Kim, of the Kim Challenge, also a New Yorker, but without even the backyard, is starting a roof-top garden over her Brooklyn apartment. So, some NYers are doing some gardening. I think that privilege is always an important thing to examine and certainly the White House has way more land to manage this than the average American, but there are many options for apt. dwellers (like community gardening, where you garden in designated lots) or keeping fresh herbs in your window. It just depends on your interest level and I know that you've never been big into the outdoors, and that's okay, but I don't think that the White House garden implies everyone can or should take up gardening, but for those who are so inclined, its a good example.