Michelle Obama Brings Chef Sam Kass to the White House


Amid the flurry of news reports and blog analysis this week about the appointment of the Obama family chef to the White House, there’s been one crucial omission. Headlines have credited President Obama with the appointment, despite the fact that the Chef Kass’ position was confirmed by Katie McCormick Lelyveld, who is spokeswoman for First Lady Michelle, not President Barack.

One never knows from the outside what really happens in a marriage, especially a high-profile White House relationship. But Barack has been particularly candid about his relationship with Michelle – while he might be the Senator or now President, Michelle is the boss at home. And Michelle, despite her high-powered diplomas, has made her number-one position “Mother in Chief” to their two girls.

So, it seems a no-brainer to give all the credit to Michelle for this surprisingly political culinary appointment. And she follows the lead of many a First Lady who have pioneered healthy food policy, often against their Presidential husbands’ wishes. For example, it was Hillary who instigated the White House rooftop garden while her husband Bill was cavorting with his best buddies in large agriculture. And before that, it was Eleanor Rosevelt who planted the Victory Garden on the White House lawn – over the objections of her Presidential Husbands’ US Department of Agriculture. We have to go way back to 1918 to find a joint White House effort – when both President Wilson and First Lady Edith Wilson recruited a flock of sheep to mow and fertilize the First Lawn during World War I (Just imagine the reaction she would have gotten if Alice Waters had suggested that!)

Chef Kass’ is no stranger to culinary politics, having previously been a primary figure in the Hull-House Kitchen “Re-Thinking Soup” project that combines organic political discussion with a healthy meal.

Chef Kass is also a vocal opponent of the current federal school lunch guidelines, which kowtow to large agribusiness interests over the health and nutritional interests of our children. And while his White House appointment means that he will have to withdraw from his other activities, it has already given his ideas – which include local and organic cuisine as part of a healthy lifestyle – a considerable boost while allowing him to continue serving healthy lunches to First Children Malia and Sasha.

On the flip side, while Michelle Obama deserves more credit than she gets for all things Presidential these days, it is possible that this was the Presidents decision. Following the storm of criticism he received following his announcement of Tom Vilsack as the pick for Secretary of Agriculture, this could be Obama’s way of mitigating the political damage while ensuring that his daughters continue get a healthy lunch.

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  1. marian burros
    Friday, January 30th, 2009
    It would have been nice if you had given credit to the newspaper that was the first to report this story. Katie McCormick Lelyveld did not announce Sam Kass' arrival at the White House; she responded to a query seeking confirmation from a New York Times reporter.
    • pcrossfield
      Friday, January 30th, 2009
      Thanks, Marian, for keeping us on our toes!
  2. Aaron French
    Friday, January 30th, 2009
    Marian,

    Thanks for the great reporting, and I apoligize for the unintended slight to your work and the New York Times.

    I appreciate your clarification that this story was the result of direct reporting by New York Times staff.