The First Lady of Food

by Sarah Henry on June 19, 2009 · 5 comments

in food books,food politics

So the week began with Paul McCartney’s plea for Meat Free Mondays and ended with Michael Pollan and Novella Carpenter discussing slaughtering chickens, rabbits, goats, and pigs for dinner.

What a difference a few days makes. Carpenter, in case you’ve missed her, is the author of Farm City, a new book on urban gardening that’s garnering rave reviews, like this one from Dwight Garner in last week’s New York Times. She’s not just growing greens people, she’s got an animal farm in her ghetto-fabulous digs. She describes how she lovingly cares for her edible pets and the respectful rituals she performs before readying them for the family meal. There are amusing accounts of dumpster diving near chi-chi restaurants for high-end swill for her hungry pigs.  She’s very funny, peppers her speech with cuss words, and this past week she packed both the bio-diesel gas station that sprang up overnight in my neighborhood and a church, no less, full of folk eager to here her talk dirty. She didn’t disappoint. “You work your arse off trying to feed your pig really well,” she told the church crowd, “and then you find yourself massaging salt into her leg and thinking, ‘this is going to be good’ — it’s a little sexy.”

Linda McCartney just rolled over in her grave. Meanwhile, I’m probably the only person alive in Berkeley who hadn’t attended a Michael Pollan food chat. As advertised, the man who urges us to Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. is accessible and charming and graciously played the role of the proud professor lavishing praise on his student and her success.

But here was the real take-home message from the evening. Carpenter, the relative newbie to food writing, asked Pollan whether this whole obsession with what we eat isn’t getting a little out of hand. Pollan used the opportunity to point out that the politics of food is just getting interesting, now that there’s an administration that gets why it’s important to reform this country’s food system. Of course, as he pointed out, it’s one thing to “get it,” and quite another to bring about change.

That’s where the First Lady of Food comes in. It seems Michelle Obama is on a mission to raise people’s consciousness about our diet. The White House Victory Garden was just the beginning; this week she revealed a plan detailing how to profoundly alter the way we eat. Pollan thinks if the Obama administration can get people to realize that to carry out health care reform the country also needs to overhaul its food industry (drawing the connection between obesity, type 2 diabetes, and skyrocketing health care costs) then maybe real change is possible. That’s something to chew on.

Photo: Lynn Sweet.

To learn more about what Michelle’s got cooking on the culinary political front follow her every food move at Eddie Gehman Kohan’s amazingly exhaustive Obama Foodorama blog.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Dianne Jacob June 19, 2009 at 10:37 am

Yeah, I was starting to get jaded by all the Michael Pollan events I had attended, but then he stopped, and I realized how lucky I was to live near him and have access to his thought process and those of his colleagues, like Alice Waters and Marion Nestle.

I put a hold on Carpenter’s book at the Oakland library. Only 17 people ahead of me.

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jessimonster June 19, 2009 at 11:09 am

I’ll have to find that book at my library! I wonder if I can get it on audio yet?

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Romney Steele June 19, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Never crossed my mind about the library thing-but good idea–perhaps I’ll borrow it from Dianne before she returns it, sigh. But seriously–it was an interesting discussion last night, and thank you Sarah for digesting it all in this nice little blog posting, making the link from London to Washington, too. I hadn’t heard about meat-free mondays, but I rarely eat meat on mondays, anyway.

And yes, Novella was hilarious, and swore like a sailor as the NY times article mentioned. You gotta love someone like her!

Nani

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Mikki February 11, 2010 at 7:20 am

I’ve done the whole gauntlet of Food these past ten years. Me? I’m going back to Weston A Price and Nourishing Traditions! It’s so simple! Yeah and I’d like to see Sir Paul go into a country that relies on meat for their food and tell them to go Meatless on Mondays! Get real Sir Paul!

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