Obama: A Foodie Figurehead?

Discussion
Dec 30, 2008

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
fitness."

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
garden.

"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."

Discussion Question:
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?

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15 Comments on "Obama: A Foodie Figurehead?"


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Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
13 years 4 months ago

Given their food-related choices up to this point, it’s likely the incoming president and first lady will lead by example. But I don’t think we’ll see them use their offices as bully pulpits, at least in this area–too many pressing issues. But don’t be surprised if the agenda gets rewritten several times. As every president soon learns, the force of national and global concerns will overtake any agenda.

Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
13 years 4 months ago

There’s no doubt that this family is under such scrutiny that just about anything he does will shape trends. It’s not only going to be national but international as well. I just got back from a trip that included stops in Africa and Europe. Obamamania is a global thing. I only hope the “microscope” doesn’t distort the fact that he’s just a guy with all the strengths and weaknesses of a mere mortal. Sometimes it seems like we think he has been endowed with super-human powers. Maybe it’s his diet.

randy wilkinson
Guest
randy wilkinson
13 years 4 months ago

I think Al McClain has the best idea of all. Just take a deep breath and let our new president deal with important issues. Those will take the first 2 years at least, just to get a start on the economy, the wars and threats to America.

Only about 4% of the population really cares anything about the government telling us what to eat. Our government can’t even spend our tax dollars wisely and they want them to tell us what to eat? I don’t think so.

Alison Chaltas
Guest
Alison Chaltas
13 years 4 months ago

Certainly the Obamas seem to live a healthier and foodier lifestyle and our new first family is already setting trends across the US. More attention to food safety and health is important and a key issue for our new cabinet. However, there are so many critical issues the new administration must address from day 1, beginning with ending two wars and finding ways to return economic growth. We’d be shocked if food safety makes the Obama A list for 2009.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
13 years 4 months ago

Personally, I’d like to see all the various associations, lobbyists, and interest groups take a breather for six months. I know it won’t happen but I agree with Alison that Obama was elected to deal with several huge issues. He isn’t even in office yet and organizations are bombarding him with press releases and position papers; elements of the media are drafting lists of the top 20 things he “must” do immediately; the entertainment press is analyzing his abs and choice of puppies; and individuals are starting blogs analyzing his food tastes.

What if we all take a deep breath and let him put together a plan to address critical issues and make some reasoned decisions on those. Do we really need to analyze whether the president eats organic lettuce or not? I just can’t believe how ridiculous our expectations already are for this new administration.

David Livingston
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

I think that beyond the creative imagination of a New York Times writer, we will not be hearing much about this. More important on the agenda will be to improve the economy so people can buy food. I don’t see how it improves the financial well being of our citizens to improve prison diets and animal welfare. In the end, real change occurs at the end of the money trail. I don’t see that trail leading to the agenda of liberal foodie extremists.

Zel Bianco
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

I think before he can be taken seriously on this subject, he would absolutely have to quit smoking. Beyond that there are so many serious issues to content with that, I hope the figurehead that he needs to be labeled with is the ‘economy fixer’ figurehead.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

The major economic and structural issues need to be addressed first. Barack inherits a mess that needs sorting out. Food issues are probably not the top priority nor should they be.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
13 years 4 months ago

Certainly not a topic for the first 100 days, but in my more philosophical moments, I can’t help but think that change to our food systems is worthy of addressing within a four-year span. It’s amazing how much our food supply system has changed in the last 100 years. Couple that with the mind-boggling amount of research out there on what’s good for you or bad for you or might maybe be marginally indifferent, and that’s a lot of change and a lot of information that isn’t all necessarily for the best.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Given the President-elect’s apparent penchant for all things Clinton Administration we may see him become the next champion of the Big Mac.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Geez, think of the huge criticism heaped on him from the right for drinking Honest Tea on the campaign trail instead of soft drinks. I can only imagine the firestorm when people learn that he likes whole grains and fresh fruit, too….

Jonathan Marek
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

I saw Alice Waters speak a few weeks ago. She is hopeful that the Obamas will install an edible garden on the White House lawn. To her, it’s a major policy issue, but I can’t think of anyone else who thinks this rises to the level of the other challenges the next president will face.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
13 years 4 months ago

Changes in food policy and eating habits may come under the heading of whatever is opposite to collateral damage–collateral benefit? Intended rather than unintended consequences? Incremental change because people see the Obamas as symbolic even if the new administration’s influence is incidental rather than specific. I’m not sure Ruth Reichl is right, although it wouldn’t hurt but I do agree with Christina Schiavoni about issues being inextricably linked. One thing leads to another, after all, and if more people see the opportunity for change then perhaps they will make it happen even without the direct interference of a president who has to deal with problems on a mega-scale. A new kind of trickle down effect maybe?

Mark Burr
Guest
13 years 4 months ago
After he makes the sky bluer, the grass greener, puts gas in all of our cars, cools the earth, miraculously ends all conflict in the world, rids governement from corruption, reengineers American cars, pays off our mortgages, he might have time left to buy us all a great burger. Unrealistic expectations? If you think so, check the expectations of many that voted for him. Expepctations are unbelievably high for this guy. Maybe the trend he’ll set is getting the smokers that are left to switch over to his brand? Wouldn’t that be a coup for the tobacco lobby? I think he has more to worry about with trillions in government loans, conflict in the Middle East, Russian agression, fluctuation in the dollar, unemployment, and at least 1,000 items that will be at the top of the list before setting food trends. While I couldn’t have and wouldn’t have ever considered voting for the guy, my prayers are sure with him. I wish him well. He has his work cut out for him in living up… Read more »
Michael Beesom
Guest
Michael Beesom
13 years 4 months ago

They lost their first battle…President-elect Obama appointed the former Governor of Iowa as Sec of Ag. A no more mainstream pick he could have made. Friend of big ag as well as friend of small farmer. A joke when Villsack was Gov was that he had corn ethanol running through his bloodstream. Obama is a moderate; remember he told everybody that’s who he is from the very first day he started campaigning. He has shown that in every key pick he has made thus far.

Also, many “food reformers” want him and the new first lady to plant a huge garden on the White House grounds. Alice Waters and others have written him and said they will advise on how and who can do it. What’s funny is that they assume the President-elect and the new first lady don’t know how and who to do it. They do.

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