by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Obama

Feb 10 2010

Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity: Applause!

I had best comment on this before anyone asks.   First Lady Michelle Obama wants to do something about childhood obesity and has gone into action.  She announced her “Let’s Move” initiatives accompanied by much fanfare.  Check out:

This is big news.  I see much to admire here.  The campaign focuses on kids.  It is sensitive to political realities (it’s called the uncontroversial “Let’s Move,” not the inflammatory “Let’s Eat Less” or “Let’s Eat Better”).  It’s brought a large number of groups on board (the New York Times account emphasizes this point).  It aims to do something useful about school food and food “deserts” (areas without grocery stores).  And it derives directly and explicitly from the White House garden.

I wasn’t able to watch the press conference but I hear that Will Allen was an invited speaker.  Allen is the charismatic and highly effective head of Growing Power, which runs urban farms in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I’m told he said:

  • It’s a social justice issue.
  • Every child in this country should have access to good food.
  • We have to grow farmers.

Yes!

Before the announcement, Marian Burros wrote in Politico.com about the barriers this effort will face (I’m quoted in her article).   And the Los Angeles Times discussed the enormous and enormously successful lobbying effort undertaken by the soft drink industry against soda taxes.  It predicted that the First Lady would not mention soda taxes when she announced her obesity campaign.  Indeed, she did not.

But she did say:

The truth is our kids didn’t do this to themselves.  Our kids didn’t choose to make food products with tons of fat and sugar and supersize portions, and then to have those foods marketed to them wherever they turn.

So let’s call this campaign a good first step and give it a big round of applause.  I hoping everyone will give it a chance, help move it forward in every way possible, and keep fingers crossed that Mrs. Obama can pull it off.

Oct 17 2009

Pushback on alternative agriculture

After my George McGovern lecture at FAO (see the most recent previous post), the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Rome, Ertharin Cousin, thanked me for speaking and then told the audience that the opinions expressed in my talk were mine alone and did not represent those of the U.S. government.

The main point of my talk was that hunger, obesity, and food safety are social rather than personal problems and require social rather than personal solutions.  If such problems are individual, they can be solved with technical interventions such as functional foods, commercial weaning foods, irradiation, and genetically modified foods.  But if we view them as social problems, we need to find solutions that involve sustainability, social justice, and democracy.

For example, we know how to end hunger:

  • Breastfeeding
  • Clean water and safe food
  • Empowerment of women
  • Education
  • Community food security
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Political stability

These are social interventions.  Technical solutions do not enter into them except in emergencies.

I praised the Obamas for leadership in promoting sustainable food production, and ended my talk with this image.  I left it up while I was answering questions but the ambassador asked to have it turned off.

ObamasUnder ordinary circumstances, I would pass her actions off as standard practice and not take them personally.  But I am hearing more and more tales of pushback against such ideas.

According to an account in the Los Angeles Times, another university – this time Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo – has reneged on a Michael Pollan invitation under pressure from agricultural interests.

The L.A. Times quotes David Wood, chairman of Harris Ranch Beef Co., who has promised $150,000 toward a new meat processing plant on campus:

While I understand the need to expose students to alternative views, I find it unacceptable that the university would provide Michael Pollan an unchallenged forum to promote his stand against conventional agricultural practices.

Apparently, this university caved under pressure just as Washington State did in a similar incident earlier this year (see my post on that incident).   And I hear rumors about invitations that never got offered.  Freedom of speech must hold at agricultural universities unless the opinions offend donors.

Expect to see more of this as the food movement gets stronger and more effective.

May 30 2009

NYC celebrity sighting: The Obamas at Blue Hill!

One of the things about living in New York City is that you run into celebrities all the time and pay no attention.  As it happens, my partner and I were meeting Sidney Mintz and his wife tonight at my neighborhood restaurant, Blue Hill. We wondered why the street was blocked off, a huge crowd gathered at one end, and secret servicemen all over the place.

The Obamas!  At the next table!  Six feet away!  I can’t tell you what they ate because Dan Barber cooked for them.  But I saw the President pay the bill.

Turns out this was their promised night out, and the Republicans are already complaining that it cost the taxpayers too much.  From the applause in the restaurant when they were leaving, the picture-taking mob in front of the restaurant, and the crowds lining 6th Avenue, this is one expense nobody minds.   They looked they were having fun.  We did too.

And here they are dressed for Blue Hill and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.

June 1 update: Obama Foodorama has some more details, as does the New York Times. And then there’s Frank Bruni’s complaint about the choice of restaurant.  Well, you had to be there.

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Mar 22 2009

New York Times: the food revolution!

It’s been a big week for food politics in my local newspaper.  First, the Obama’s new garden (see earlier post) and now Andy Martin’s recap of the events leading to the current push for a healthier and more sustainable food system.  This starts on the front page of the Business section (note photo) and continues on to a full page on the inside.  And in the Week in Review, Mark Bittman writes about the organic revolution.  Full disclosure: I’m quoted in both.

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Mar 20 2009

The Obama’s garden: happy news!

By this time everyone in the world must know that the Obama’s are planting a vegetable garden at the White House.  Today’s New York Times not only covered it, but on the front page yet.  Planting a garden is front-page news? Indeed it is.  What strikes me most about the reports is how excited everyone at the White House is about it.  The staff can’t wait to start planting and picking.

In the meantime, Slow Food and friends are in Atlanta talking to the CDC about the importance of agriculture to food, nutrition, and health, especially as it bears on school food.  This also could be a great sign.

And if you care what else the Obama’s are doing about food, check out Obama Foodorama, where bloggers cover what gets cooked, what gets eaten, and what’s important about food in deep, daily detail.

March 21 update: Another photo of the Obama garden project appears on the front page of today’s New York Times along with a lauditory editorial (this really is big news), and Eating Liberally’s kat has a comment on farming on 5th Avenue.

Mar 14 2009

Obama on food safety!

President Obama had quite a lot to say about food safety this morning and I’m happy to say that it sounds like he gets it: the present system is outdated (it was developed a century ago), too spread out, under-resourced, and hazardous to health.  He’s going to appoint a committee to make recommendations and promises that all will be fixed “under the leadership of Dr. Margaret Hamburg.”  I hope she knows what she’s gotten herself into.

In the meantime, here’s his radio address and lawyer Bill Marler’s take on it.  And thanks Bill for posting the entire text of the speech.

And while I’m at it, how about the USDA’s new plan to test the meat at hamburger packing plants four times a month?  Is this an improvement or a clear effort to make sure nobody ever finds anything wrong?  Here’s Brian Hartman’s discussion of that question at ABC News.

Feb 2 2009

Hope for the FDA at last: Sasha eats peanut butter!

Thanks to Food Chemical News for telling its readers about the President’s appearance on the NBC Today Show this morning:  

Matt Lauer: There’s been a massive peanut butter products recall in this country over the last several weeks, most of the products traced to one plant in Georgia that has a bit of history of sending out products even though there have been traces of Salmonella found. The question…the obvious question people want to know is, “Is the FDA doing its job?”

President Obama: Well, I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch. And so we are going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations. At bare minimum, we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter. That’s what Sasha eats for lunch, probably three times a week, and you know I don’t want to have to worry about whether she is going to get sick as a consequence of having her lunch.

This leaves me breathless.  I’ve been saying for years that the only thing that would ever get Congress moving on the FDA would be if a relative of an important Senator became seriously ill with food poisoning, not something I would wish on anyone.  Fingers crossed everyone!

Jan 23 2009

COOL? Will we ever have it?

One of the first things President Obama did on his first day in office was to freeze last-minute regulations squeezed in by the Bush administration, among them Country of Origin Labeling (COOL).

On January 15, cutting it close, the USDA  issued final rules for COOL for meat, poultry, and fish, as well as for plant crops: fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables as well as, oddly, peanuts, pecans, ginseng, and macadamia nuts. The rules were supposed to take effect March 16. They excluded foods that were cooked, cured, or smoked, or mixed with other food ingredients (examples: chocolate, breading and tomato sauce). These were the same as previous versions and full of loopholes (see previous posts on the topic). I thought the lame-duck rules were better than nothing, but now it seems we are starting over.

Big question: will the Obama administration make the rules better or worse?  Fingers crossed.