Help for Michelle Obama

The March 10 issue of the New Yorker includes a profile of Michelle Obama, the refreshingly candid (and awesomely tall) potential next First Lady.

Back in April, someone who was caucusing for Barack Obama in Iowa told me that the Mister had read Michael Pollan's April 22 op-ed piece for the New York Times Magazine, "You Are What You Grow," and was referring to it knowledgeably in discussions about the Farm Bill. Sounds like Michelle Obama is ready to hitch a ride on the SOLE food chuckwagon as well, even if she does keep M&Ms in her purse. I love that she referred to Iowa State Fair food as "stuff on a stick."

Writes Lauren Collins in the New Yorker piece:  

One morning, during a roundtable at Ma Fischer’s, a diner in Milwaukee, Elizabeth Crawford, a recently divorced caterer with two children, brought up the subject of the eating habits of American families. “I really, really hope that Barack will jump on that,” she said.

Then, having given thoughtful but boilerplate responses most of the morning, Obama suddenly departed from her script. It was the most animated I saw her on the campaign trail. “You know,” she said, “in my household, over the last year we have just shifted to organic for this very reason. I mean, I saw just a moment in my nine-year-old’s life — we have a good pediatrician, who is very focussed on childhood obesity, and there was a period where he was, like, ‘Mmm, she’s tipping the scale.’ So we started looking through our cabinets. …You know, you’ve got fast food on Saturday, a couple days a week you don’t get home. The leftovers, good, not the third day! … So that whole notion of cooking on Sunday is out. …And the notion of trying to think about a lunch every day! …So you grab the Lunchables, right? And the fruit-juice-box thing, and we think — we think — that’s juice. And you start reading the labels and you realize there’s high-fructose corn syrup in everything we’re eating. Every jelly, every juice. Everything that’s in a bottle or a package is like poison in a way that most people don’t even know. …Now we’re keeping, like, a bowl of fresh fruit in the house. But you have to go to the fruit stand a couple of times a week to keep that fruit fresh enough that a six-year-old—she’s not gonna eat the pruney grape, you know. At that point it’s, like, ‘Eww!’ She’s not gonna eat the brown banana or the shrivelledy-up things. It’s got to be fresh for them to want it. Who’s got time to go to the fruit stand? Who can afford it, first of all?”

Well, judging from the salary figures listed by Collins, if anyone can afford fresh organic food, it's Michelle Obama. But if getting to the fruit stand becomes problematic during all that campaigning, perhaps the Obamas might want to consider a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription to a local farm. The 2007 food issue of the Chicago Reader listed quite a few CSA farms in the Chicago area, including Angel Organics, made famous by the documentary "The Real Dirt on Farmer John," as well as Growing Home, which offers job training for homeless and low-income Chicagoans via its nonprofit organic agriculture business. Unfortunately, Growing Home no longer seems to offer a CSA pickup location in Hyde Park, where the Obamas live, but perhaps delivery could be arranged.

Because really — these kids are going to need stronger nutritional ammo than Lunchables to get them through the primaries, let alone the election.

Photo of the Obamas from the campaign's Flickr photostream.

10 Responsesto “Help for Michelle Obama”

  1. azurite says:

    I read the NYer profile & was not impressed--she sounds pretty conservative & backward looking to me (and there were some comments to that effect by the author of the article). I agree, it's unlikely that she cannot afford to keep fresh fruit & veg around, plus I understand they have a housekeeper, & now a relative to help take care of the house & kids (it seemed as though it was a big deal that she & Obama did not have a nanny too). Seems as though one of those people could manage to "get to the fruit stand." Or a Farmers' market. Didn't notice her talking about composting those wrinkly grapes her kid wouldn't eat, either.

    Be interesting to compare how much she spends on clothes, handbags, shoes & personal care with how much it would cost to keep fresh fruit & veg around for her kids, herself & her husband. Chances are, a staffer would be willing to keep whatever hotel suite they're in (when on the road) or private jet, supplied w/some fresh fruit for snacking.

    To me it sounded like an "off the cuff" or informal speech designed to appeal to working parents who are maybe seeing their grocery bills climb (while their salaries/wages are not), yet are concerned about the health of their kids & themselves.

    If she were really cool (& thought a sufficiently important topic to educate herself about), she'd not only be talking about finding a CSA but also talking about community gardens & how she really thinks that raising veg & fruit w/kids is very important-so they learn where food comes from, getting really fresh veg & fruit. Even if they use containers to grow lettuce, radishes, other veg, herbs, etc.

  2. Emily says:

    On the other hand, she's waking up and noticing these real issues. SHE might be able to afford fruit (money-, if not time-wise) but she at least gets it that not everyone can. Couldn't it be a coup to have a first lady who was a Lunchables Mom and gets turned onto the idea of Brown Rice Curry for lunch?

  3. Whatever you might think about Michelle Obama's spending or personal life, Senator Obama's position paper on the Environment (PDF) contains some very good things about food and agriculture:

    Regulate CAFOs: Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which raise more than 40 percent of U.S. livestock, comprise a larger share of the livestock industry every year. Barack Obama has worked for tougher environmental regulations on CAFOs. He has supported legislation to set tough air and water pollution limits for livestock operations, including limits on nitrogen, phosphorus, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and other pollutants. In the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency will strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large CAFOs, with fines for those who violate tough air and water quality standards. Obama also strongly supports efforts to ensure meaningful local control.

    Encourage Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: Organic food is the fastest growing sector of the American food marketplace. Demand for sustainable, locally-grown, grass-finished and heritage foods is also growing quickly. These niche markets present new opportunities for beginning farmers because specialty operations often require more management and labor than capital. To support the continued growth of sustainable alternative agriculture, Barack Obama will increase funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to help farmers afford the costs of compliance with national organic certification standards. He will also reform the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Agency’s crop insurance rates so that they do not penalize organic farmers.

    Support Local Family Farmers with Local Foods and Promote Regional Food System Policies: Farming is a vanishing lifestyle. Less than one million Americans claim farming as their primary occupation. Those farmers who sell directly to their customers cut out all of the middlemen and get full retail price for their food -which means farm families can afford to stay on the farm, doing the important work they love. Barack Obama recognizes that local and regional food systems are better for our environment and support family-scale producers. As president, he will emphasize the need for Americans to Buy Fresh and Buy Local, and he will implement USDA policies that promote local and regional food systems.

    If elected, he'll need a lot of help to get any of the above through Congress and past all of the Cheney-planted career employees and industry-captured bureaucrats.

  4. Charlotte says:

    I think it's important to remember that the Obama's didn't have real money until just a couple of years ago -- she's been pretty open about how they only just paid off their student loans when he got his book advance (and 2 Harvard Law degrees are some pretty hefty student loans). They've also both been pretty open about having made less money at every job they've taken since leaving the private sector -- so my read on that was not disingenuous. And the habits of thrift die hard -- when I was growing up in Chicago, in a pretty well-off family, fresh fruit in the winter was considered *very* luxurious. So I can see how if you've spent your life trying to keep the food budget down, the change to fresh fruits and veggies and to organic as well can be kind of a shock. I actually liked this part of the article -- you have to start somewhere -- and if it's by getting HFCS out of the house, and fresh fruit in, well, then that's a start. I hardly think it's fair to pile on because she hasn't found a CSA and started composting while she's helping her husband campaign for the Presidency for goodness sake!

  5. I agree that MO's remarks aren't "enough" but I also think that they are a very encouraging start.

    The "if she were really cool" attitude is such a turn-off to me, because not everyone is in the same place as far as awareness goes - this is still a growing movement, and we on the West Coast have been hearing more about it for a longer period of time. Being judgmental only divides the "cool people who know better" from the "idiots who don't".

    Looking for a starting point - like noticing that HFC is everywhere, and acknowledging that it is a problem - is a great place to begin. Hopefully "more" will soon follow.

  6. Bonnie P. says:

    Note to all: I didn't mean to sound like I was picking on Ms. Obama — I do think it's cool that she gives a rat's ass at all! And I actually meant the CSA recommendation sincerely…as sincerely as I could knowing she'll probably never read it. Given her roots, I thought she'd be into supporting an urban farm AND pleasing her picky six-year-old.

    I totally agree with Charlotte: you have to start somewhere. Just starting to read labels is a huge step. It's how I started this blog! If you go back and read the May 2006 entries, we all sound like Michelles.

  7. Dan Shelton says:

    Fascinating article and a good debate.

  8. FarmerDeb says:

    Love that this is being discussed. Thank you, Bonnie!

    Michelle Obama shared a common experience many parents and individuals have gone through in the last few years and hopefully many more will confront soon. A wake up call of "what am I feeding my children?" And then how does this relate to policy?

    And it isn't easy. If you've been around a child, you know. (Kids love juice boxes...denying a juice box can lead to some pretty serious tantrums, but that is an entirely different blog.)

    Fortunately, Obama has an ag policy team made up of grassroots folks (as well as some very experienced inside the beltway wonks) to address what is going in our runaway food system, including our children's bellies and what landscapes they will see around the American countryside in their lifetime. Do we want CAFOs or family farms? Do we want healthy safe affordable food or GMO, pesticide-covered HFCS-filled snack cakes? Obama has developed an ag plan for most states. Check yours out and see for yourself. He includes farm to school efforts and building local food structures. How exciting is that!

    eat well!

  9. Maria Neal says:

    Does anyone know if there is any truth to the claim that Obama is supporting the National Animal Identification System? It doesn't seem to mesh with his supporting small farms. I'm concerned about this....

  10. Anna says:

    Obama has provided his own state constituants with his positive support of NAIS. Several of his state constituants have e-mailed him with their concerns and opposition to the program and have recieved back e-mails that show he supports NAIS in spite of his constituants opposition.  I don't have copies of any such e-mail trans actions only the word of those who have received e-mails back from Obama.  And he's also state publicly in a TV interview that he supports the USDA bills and would do everything in his power to help get them passed. That includes the NAIS issue bills.