Alice Waters says Obama is paying attention to food & ag issues

Presidential hopeful Barack Obama has read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and America’s obesity epidemic is very much on his mind, says Alice Waters, the original SOLE sister and founder of Chez Panisse, in this video from the Aspen Ideas Festival. (Thanks, Cookie Jill!)

“We have to talk about food as a right and not a privilege,” says Waters, who thinks next year’s president should form a “Kitchen Cabinet” — and yes, she’s willing to move to Washington, D.C., to serve on it.

14 Responsesto “Alice Waters says Obama is paying attention to food & ag issues”

  1. Ian Lewis says:

    Hey, if Obama (or McCain) can help reform a system that will knock down these regulations that basically demand you become a large CAFO just to survive, then great.
    But, AFAIK, Alice Waters has only been involved in one “thing” like this, and, that was designing the food program for a school in Berkeley. And, according to an article that was posted/referenced at, it completely fell apart. The person that was put in charge of that particular food program reported that it was “impossible” to do the things Alice instructed and regularly put food on the table for the children.
    I am not hatin’ in Alice. She has had a big effect on the organic/natural movement. But, she always seems very “head in the clouds” to me.  Agreat thing for a visionary, but, not so much for someone sticking there nose in policy issues.

  2. I hope that Obama (and McCain) will pay attention not just to farm issues but to how the current administration’s pushing of non-sense regulations like NAIS ( ) hurst small farmers, the consumers and our freedoms. What we need is an end to subsidies – they go to a very few big ag players producing a very unlevel playing field. No need to subsidies their huge pockets.

  3. Susan says:

    I agree with Walter Jeffries…under NAIS,

    ·                                 NAIS(national animal identification system), it will require livestock owners  to be under more surveillance than illegals, drug dealers or child molesters. All those who own even one cow, pig, horse, chicken or other farm animal will be required to register their premises, microchip each critter, no matter if it is a pet or potential food. Then they must, under threat of huge fines, file birth, death and movement reports (within 24 hours) on every last critter on the place. If animal disease is even suspected in an area, the USDA can go in and kill all the animals. The purpose of this oh-so-wonderful-thanks-for-protecting-us program is to provide 48 hour traceback should a disease be suspected. The only problem with this program is that e-coli happens after the cow is slaughtered, which is when NAIS tracking stops. The beef is most vulnerable to being tainted in those processing plants. And the fact the majority of beef is raised by corporate agriculture, who will not be required to tag and track each animal because they raise them in lots, they they get only ONE number per groups of animals. Any one of those critters in that group could be diseased and who would know. But as long as there are appearances of something being done, the city dwellers will eat in peace, while granny and her few egg hens will be tracked closer than the illegals everybody is making such a fuss about and that will make our beef supply oh so safe. See nonais dot org for more info on the true impact NAIS will have on all of us who eat!

  4. Stephen says:

    NAIS (National Animal Identification System) can best be explained like this; the general public is told NAIS is a plan to track/protect us from animal disease.  But NAIS  National Animal Identification System (NAIS) is a business plan designed by and for corporate ag and chip makers with the false mantra “to show the world what a safe food supply we have”.   The plan benefits agri-biz global market by keeping track of every privately owned  livestock animal in the US EXCEPT the ones on the factory farms.  Those who even one livestock animal will have to register their premises, microchip and file reports to the govt on every move those animals make BUT Big Ag gets one lot number for their groups of animals and does not have to tag/track every critter…Currently only registered sex deviants have to register their homes and file movement reports with the govt. And exactly how does keeping track of a pot belly pig in suburbia or a pony that will never become part of the food supply help keep beef free of mad cow disease that is sold to the Japanese?  Because if disease is suspected, an entire 6 mile radius of animals can be depopulated (killed) and that is supposed to show the foreign buyers that disease is being kept under control!!!!!  Silly, isn’t it, but that is what $100 million plus of your tax dollars is going to fund.  And when the buy local market is wiped out, big ag will have all the marbles!!!!
    But NAIS tracibility ends at the moment the animal goes to slaughter, which is when most food safety issues occur.  See for more info.

  5. Lj says:

    I’m agreeing with the above posts opposing NAIS.  If you want an example of the kind of chaos NAIS would create in this country simply look to England and the devastation that has been wrought on the livestock farmers of that country.  Then look at  Austrailia and the higher costs livestock producers must absorb for conforming to their version of NAIS, it hasn’t had any effect on the price their beef or lamb gets on the international market even though it was touted as a system that would provide permimum prices for their livetstock.  NAIS is not wanted nor needed in the US livetstock industry.  There are current disease and species specific programs that are very effective at controlling and combating livestock diseases in the US.  What is needed more is inspectors and control points in the meat processing industry where more than 90% of the meat contamination happens.  Simple things like enforcement of current cleanliness, hygine and safe handling rules would go a long way to correct current problems in the meat processing industry. 

  6. Bonnie P. says:

    The Ethicurean ran a lengthy post about NAIS last year and why it is bad news. It is still a very important issue, and obviously one near and dear to a lot of farmers’ hearrts, but let’s not lose sight of Obama for the RFIDs, please? :-)

  7. Cascadia Girl says:

    To Ian,

    Your comments about Alice Waters made me curious, so I looked for the post and could not find it.  Would you mind posting the link?

    I don’t claim to be an “Edible Schoolyard” expert, however, in my search I actually found evidence of great success of her Edible Schoolyard program, including:
    “Even if the sowed schoolyard concept has yet to become an integral part of the nation’s food culture, it is beginning to catch on. For starters, in Berkeley virtually every public school already boasts a garden-kitchen combo. And each year, more than 1,000 educators, health professionals, community advocates and legislators visit the Edible Schoolyard, taking meticulous notes that, with any luck, will translate into their very own Edible Eden. In California alone, there are now an estimated 3,000 school gardens.”   January 2, 2008-
    Here are a few of some of the newer Edible Schoolyard programs:
    New York:

    Funding numbers:
    Foundation spends $1,000,000 annually on programming and grants, much of which goes toward the Edible Schoolyard.

    And by other measures:
    According to a two-year study of the Edible Schoolyard by J. Michael Murphy, an associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, this program is both shrinking students’ waistlines and increasing their understanding of food and the environment. Murphy observed that when middle school students in large urban communities are given the opportunity to learn about ecology in a real-world context, “they are more enthusiastic about attending school, make better grades, eat healthier food due to wiser food choices, and become more knowledgeable about natural processes.” Not only that, but the more students learn about the ecosystem, the more fruits and vegetables they’re likely to eat. “Teaching students about where food comes from and how it is prepared,” said Murphy, “may be an important contributor to overall diet change.” –

  8. Ian Lewis says:

    Cascadia Girl, I do not know if you are still watching this thread, but, here is the link:
    It only mentions Waters in passing, but the program referenced in the article is based on her ideas.
    Also, Waters sometimes seems “out of touch”. This can be seen here: and here:
    I actually found evidence of great success of her Edible Schoolyard” I am a big fan of the idea behind the Edible Schoolyard and many of it’s implementations. But, 1.) I wasn’t really talking about that and 2.) the Edible Schoolyard still needs “outside” financing to be viable. And some of those school districts that need outside financing are quite wealthy.
    But a major, and central, point of this is to provide school lunches (and other meals) that are healthy for the school children. But, this can be somewhat unrealistic. At least in the context of modern ideas about how much food should cost and how we should go about making those meals for hundred, if not thousands, of children each day.

  9. Charles says:

    This is laughable. He came out in strong support of the farm bill and criticized McCain who did not.
    I like Obama but you have a responsibility to get the facts straight. A simple google search could have told you his stance in this, the most important legislation related to sustainable, ethical eating.

  10. Bonnie P. says:

    Charles: Which “facts” did we get wrong exactly? Obama suported the Farm Bill, but he did so with reservations; see his statement on it. As did we.

  11. Charles says:


    I am chagrined and retract my statement about facts. I certainly did not expect this blog to be in support of the farm bill. I stand by the intent of my statement which is that we cannot take the proposition of this blog seriously when the candidate supports the farm bill.
    I disagree strongly with your support of the farm bill. As an economist I am well-aware of the problems with the WTO and the bargaining process. As a citizen of the developing world I am also very much aware of the options available to developing world farmers. I share many of your concerns about agribusiness. I believe these concerns are due largely due to the farm bill.
    Working at a prominent think-tank I am also aware that many of my colleagues share these criticisms of the farm bill. Many are also supporters of Obama. I feel that a discussion of the issues that concern the Obama administration should disclose his support his support of the farm bill. Having read the Omnivores Dilemma and supported the farm bill seems disingenuous.

  12. Ali B. says:

    The challenge is that the farm bill isn’t simply subsidies.  If it were all about subsidies, things would be simpler. But the majority of the $ goes to nutrition programs like food stamps, plus the bill addresses  programs like conservation and disaster assistance, and even farmers’ market promotion. All of it gets wrapped up into one giant, highly flawed piece of of legislation.  Admittedly, it’s a mess, and there are definitely painful agribusiness wins written into the bill. But it’s complex enough that voting for it with serious reservations doesn’t mean a candidate is de facto pro-agribusiness.
    We have a long way to go. But having a candidate who has read the Omnivore’s Dilemma is a start. Some of Obama’s other positions – caps on subsidies, tougher CAFO regulations, for example, would be tougher on agribiz than the current state of affairs.
    There’s a good op-ed on Obama’s position on this flawed legislation here:

  13. Charles says:

    You are right that this is a complex piece of legislation. If we strip away the food assistance programs and look at it as a package of subsidies and environmental measures, then the package is surely flawed. Given the raison d’être of this blog I feel it is through those lens that we have to analyze this. Whether or not you agree with the food nutrition program is a function of your political worldview and beyond the purview of this blog (I believe). What is remaining is a hugely damaging piece of legislation from the standpoint of obesity and the environment. This is both the extent of the subsidies and the form of the expenditures which serve to placate interest groups rather than make effective changes in the environmental implications of the bill.
    Some of Bush’s, and McCain’s comments, about the bill were certainly justified. For instance, the requirement that US food aid programs have to buy their food from US producers is outrageous. Bush proposed to reduce this requirement – which is an indirect subsidy of agribusiness. I am no supporter of Bush or McCain, but Obama’s stance on this is tenuous. My cynical side interprets his position as standard horse-trading from a candidate who desperately needs to carry the states that care most deeply about this. We will never know. But it is certain that the farm bill in its present form is a shameful piece of legislation.

  14. Ali says:

    “What is remaining is a hugely damaging piece of legislation from the standpoint of obesity and the environment.”

    Oh, yes. Oh, yes. yes. yes. I’m right there with you on this one.
    I also agree that we should meet any politicians’ support of this bill — including, or perhaps especially Obama-from-Illinois with a fair amount of skepticism. Or maybe you’re right; perhaps the word is cynicism.
    I think what confuses me is your comment that “If we strip away the food assistance programs and look at it as a package of subsidies and environmental measures, then the package is surely flawed. Given the raison d’être of this blog I feel it is through those lens that we have to analyze this.”
    But how could Obama, or any politician strip away the programs that encompass 2/3 of this this bill, when deciding whether to support it or not? Perhaps I interpreted your comment wrong, but it feels like you would have wanted him to vote against something that’s purely theoretical (the bill without the nutrition assistance programs). Or maybe it’s not so much about the vote per se, as it is reacting to Obama’s statement that this bill” will provide “America’s hard-working farmers and ranchers with more support and more predictability.”
    In which case I agree that it makes me uncomfortable, too, given that agribiz scored bigger than the small farmers again.
    One last comment; while all of this was being debated, I had a chance to see Dan Imhoff speak. His comments were inspiring, and not because he expected real change this year. He said that while we shouldn’t expect real reform, that this year was important, because “it was the literacy year.” Never again will these things be debated without a large portion of the American population paying attention. For the first time, many mainstream (non-farmers, non-ranchers, non agribiz) Americans are paying attention.
    Count me as an example. Until this year, I hadn’t paid attention, and I certainly hadn’t voiced my opinion on this issue to any of my representatives. Like Obama reading Michael Pollan, it’s not everything, it’s definitely not enough, but it’s a start.