When I buy a cookbook, I am always drawn to the pictures. When I read a non-fiction book, I want a good story. American Grown, by First Lady Michelle Obama, is both–it’s an interesting hybrid of a gardening, cooking and history book, chronicling the story of the White House Garden, the importance of growing and eating fresh food. Read more
Walmart made big news yesterday with a press conference alongside the First Lady to announce new company commitments. Most of the mainstream media coverage of the Walmart announcement seemed to buy the company PR that it was taking valiant steps to improve the affordability and health qualities of the food it sells. Among these commitments, Walmart said it will be working with food suppliers to reduce sodium, sugars, and trans fat in certain products by 2015; developing its own seal to help consumers identify healthier products; and addressing hunger by opening Walmart stores in the nation’s “food deserts.”
Do these Walmart promises really hold big upsides for health and food insecurity? The Times seemed to think so, running with this headline: “Wal-Mart Shifts Strategy to Promote Healthy Foods.” (Am I crazy or does that read remarkably like the Walmart press release: “Walmart Launches Major Initiative to Make Food Healthier and Healthier Food More Affordable”?) Had the Times been aiming for accuracy it might better have titled the article: “Walmart Launches PR Campaign Promoting Promises to Win the Hearts and Minds of Urban Consumers.” Read more
With one in three children (and one in two children of color) overweight or obese in this country, the health of America’s kids is under the microscope and, for the first time in our history, children born now will not live as long as their parents. Michelle Obama has launched her Let’s Move campaign, and chef Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution brought the school cafeteria to television. But as Oliver’s program showed, one of the biggest barriers to changing kids’ health outcomes is a lack of dedicated labor and expertise.
That is where FoodCorps comes in, an AmeriCorps program that would put service members to work building school gardens and establishing farm-to-school relationships in towns across the United States, specifically in places lacking regular access to fresh produce. A collaboration between the National Farm to School Network, Slow Food USA and other groups, the FoodCorps team has raised more than $215,000 from the Kellogg Foundation and AmeriCorps to develop the program, which could begin as early as 2011. Read more
When President Obama established a “Presidential task force on childhood obesity” in February, Grist’s Tom Laskawy wondered whether our nation’s first federal food policy council had quietly sprung into being. In a food policy council, the key stakeholders of a region’s food system come together to assess the current food situation and envision ways it might be improved. Food policy councils are a growing phenomenon at the state and municipal level, but such a thing had never existed before at the national level. Does it now?
Well, last week I had the honor of attending the new task force’s White House Childhood Obesity Summit, and it certainly had the flavors of a food policy council: an array of food-policy players across agencies gathered to discuss a key symptom of a food system gone off the rails: childhood obesity. Read more
It’s a good thing First Lady Michelle Obama is an Ivy-league educated lawyer, because with Let’s Move, her ambitious campaign to end child obesity in a generation, she has waded into a debate that has, since the nation’s founding, been at the center of our national discourse: Individual rights vs. the interests of the state. It’s all under the rubric of improving child health and making healthy food available to all, of course, but Mrs. Obama has spent a lot of time in the past two weeks explaining how her campaign is not treading on Constitutional issues, or personal choice. And that it’s not about government control, but rather about individuals and groups taking responsibility for their own actions, with food choices and health choices. Debates in America about food/agriculture and health are already highly contentious, with a longstanding philosophical divide between those who promote conventional production vs. organic and sustainable production, between the value of local foodsheds vs. transnational sourcing, among other things. Mrs. Obama’s new campaign adds an entirely new portfolio of issues to the discourse. Read more
Knowing that the obesity epidemic in the United States has some scientists predicting that for the first time in history American children will live shorter lives than their parents, my wish for the next decade is to see First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and his administration succeed in their mission to ensure that every American child has access to healthy and affordable food. A recent gathering of Obama Administration officials invited to discuss their efforts to improve America’s food system left me hopeful that my wish will come true. Read more
A year after America voted for the change-agent they saw in Barack Obama, advocates hoping for deep improvements in our food system can point to only a few successes, while other policies that could lead to food insecurity are brewing in back rooms. Read more
The autumn sunshine was very bright, the weather unseasonably warm, and there was a party atmosphere at the White House for Wednesday’s Healthy Kids Fair, when First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off her shoes and hula hooped, Double Dutch jump roped, and sprinted through an obstacle course on the South Lawn, accompanied by dozens of visiting school children. This bit of unexpected fun is what got reported about the event in the mainstream media. Adding to the party atmosphere: The White House Chefs, accompanied by high-profile guest chefs, were demonstrating recipes in a series of outdoor kitchen stations. (Top: Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack watches Mrs. Obama make remarks at the opening of the Fair)
But the Healthy Kids Fair couldn’t have been more serious, because it’s part of an ongoing Obama campaign to encourage kids, parents and families to make changes in their behavior—or face a grim future. Read more
Yesterday the White House released a video featuring First Lady Michelle Obama and assistant chef and food initiative coordinator Sam Kass telling the story of the White House garden. The video is around seven minutes long, and features footage of the building of the garden, with Kass giving details about the history of gardening at the White House (there is even some historical footage from “Victory Gardens” a 1944 government film to encourage people to grow at home, which you watch in full here), soil amendments, the seeds from Thomas Jefferson’s Montecello garden, and even a time lapse video as the garden was growing.
This short film also features the Bancroft Elementary students who helped to plant it. “We wanted the focus to be on kids,” the First Lady said, “because you can affect children’s behavior so much more easily than you can adults.” She also said that the garden was largely about setting an example for other families through changing her own family’s diet, specifically through “eliminating processed and sugary foods,” and encouraging eating together around the table. She continued, “the garden is really an important introduction to what I hope will be a new way that our country thinks about food” Read more