Obama: A Foodie Figurehead?
By Tom Ryan
The pending inauguration
of Barack Obama has many food advocates hoping he somehow leads a radical
makeover of the way food is grown, sold and eaten in America, according
to a recent article in The New York Times. By all accounts, the
newspaper said, Mr. Obama
"looks like the first foodie president since Thomas Jefferson."
Of course, everyone has
an agenda. Among the many causes, some are pushing for stronger food safety
procedures, others for better treatment of farm animals, healthier public-school
lunches, or less sodium-based diets for prisoners.
The problem is that although
Mr. Obama has proposed changes in farm and rural policies and emphasizes
the connection between diet and health, food policy overhauls haven’t been
a major part of his platform.
Still, foodies feel Mr.
Obama "looks like their kind of president" if only because he
possesses a "more sophisticated palate" than recent predecessors.
They point to the fancy restaurants he frequents in Chicago; comments by
his wife, Michelle, on the importance of organic food and a low-sodium
diet for the family; and his past praise of Michael Pollan, the reform-minded
food writer, among other things. But the article also points out that his
ascendancy to presidency arrives as organic food has gone mainstream, cooking
competitions are top-rated TV shows, and books calling for the drastic
changes in the food system are best sellers.
"People are so interested
in a massive change in food and agriculture that they are dining out on
hope now. That is like the main ingredient," said Eddie Gehman Kohan,
a Los Angeles blogger who started Obamafoodorama.com.
Said David Kamp, the
author of "The United States of Arugula," on the modern gourmet-food
movement, "This time we have a Democrat in office that seems to live
the dream and speak the language of both food progressivism and personal
Policy-wise, more practical
food advocates recognize the economy will be the big focus for his administration.
But they also hope food policies will change as he tackles issues such
as climate change, energy and health care.
"If he’s serious
about doing this, then he’ll have to address the current problems of our
food system, which are inextricably linked to these other problems," said
Christina Schiavoni of World Hunger Year.
Some are at least hoping
symbolism around healthy eating for the family arrives. For instance, Ruth
Reichl, the editor of Gourmet magazine, hopes he appoints a prominent
White House chef who cooks organic and local food, possibly from the presidential
"What the president
eats could have a major impact on everyone in the country,"
Ms. Reichl told the Times. "It’s like the hat manufacturers being
furious because J. F. K. didn’t wear a hat, and suddenly everyone in America
stopped wearing hats," she said.
"It’s that simple."
What do you think of Barack Obama’s potential to drive changes in America’s
food policies and diet? Is the country ripe for an overhaul in attitudes
around food policy and eating behavior?