Michelle Obama and Alice Waters: Let’s Do Breakfast

by Sarah Henry on June 13, 2011 · 33 comments

in berkeley bites,food events,food flotsam & jetsam,food politics,kids & food

FLOTUS, also known as First Lady Michelle Obama, is scheduled to have breakfast at a political fundraiser tomorrow in Berkeley, where slow food legend Alice Waters and friends will whip up something seasonal, sustainable, local, organic, and, let’s hope, delicious — since supporters are forking out $1,000-$25,000 a piece to break bread (an Acme garlic loaf, the first from the Edible Schoolyard no less) with the Commander-in-Chief’s wife.

Waters is a fan of Obama’s efforts to get folks to eat well and move more. “Her dedication to children’s healthy eating has been an inspiration to all of us here at Chez Panisse,” said an email from Alice herself. “The menu will be a celebration of these ideals, featuring organic ingredients from local farmers and purveyors around the Bay Area.” Obama, of course, values Waters’ impressive work to improve school lunch around the country and champion school cooking and gardening programs through her Chez Panisse Foundation.

The woman who recently unveiled the fed’s new food icon My Plate and strives to combat childhood obesity through her Let’s Move campaign is in the Bay Area to raise money for hubbie’s 2012 re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The event will be held at the toney Claremont Hotel, Club, and Spa on the Berkeley-Oakland border, a local landmark, known for its regal white facade, killer views, and expensive club membership.

The hotel has been spiffing itself up in anticipation of Obama’s visit, wrote Berkeleyside, which noted the recent appearance of two raised planting beds near one Claremont entrance. The post prompted one resident to write: “Will the Claremont also be hiring cute, chubby children to conspicuously exercise in areas Michelle Obama might pass through?”

The Claremont Hotel's modest attempt at growing greens./Photo: Sarah Henry

Lettuce Eat Kale swung by the hotel yesterday and can report that one bed boasts new tomato plants, another starters, including radish, carrot, and parsley. But who among us hasn’t tidied up a bit before important guests come over? And when I interviewed executive chef Josh Thomsen a few months ago he mentioned plans for a veggie patch in close proximity to the hotel’s fine-dining Meritage restaurant. Fair enough.

No doubt the hotel is a flurry of activity today, as an army of folks clean and polish in anticipation of the event. There’s something else they might want to pay attention to. The wording on the sign outside the hotel, which doesn’t, ah, seem in keeping with the First Lady’s or Water’s message of (mostly) eating home-cooked meals made from scratch:

And, while we’re on the subject of staying on message: What happened to plans for another fundraising breakfast event the same morning at the Golden State Warriors’ practice center in downtown Oakland? Both breakfast events, keep in mind, are being hosted by Oakland politicians Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Mayor Jean Quan.

The basketball facility is in the heart of a city where food deserts and hunger are a significant problem, and children struggle with alarming rates of early-onset diabetes and other dietary health problems. And Oakland doesn’t have an Alice Waters in the schools or Berkeley’s enviable cooking and garden program. School food advocates there face an uphill battle to bring quality fresh food to children.

Maybe the event got cancelled due to logistical or security reasons. Regardless, local residents, like James Berk, the young owner-member of the Mandela Foods Cooperative, might have welcomed knowing that Michelle was in town, fighting the good food fight on their behalf, let alone being offered a place at the table.

Over in Berkeley most folks will likely grumble about traffic delays due to her security detail. And club members at the Claremont? They’ll probably just want to make sure they get their early morning swim, tennis game, or gym workout in before the First Lady swoops in for, perhaps, free-range eggs with artisan goat cheese and freshly foraged greens.

You might also enjoy:

The First Lady of Food
Fed Up With School Lunch: The Fed’s Join the Fray
White House Farmers’ Market: An Idea Whose Time Has Come?
What’s Cooking in the First Family’s Kitchen?
Alice Waters’ 40 Year Campaign for Good Food
New School Food Study: Victory for Alice Waters
Cultivating Controversy: In Defense of an Edible Education
Surgeon General Swings by Edible Schoolyard
Josh Thomsen Gathers Local Talent for Berkeley Wine Festival
Oakland’s Farm Fresh Approach to School Food
James Berk of Mandela Foods Brings Produce to His People

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{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Margulis June 13, 2011 at 11:05 am

This is EXCITING Sarah! I’m glad to see Michelle Obama forging ahead with health and nutrition and growing-your-own in America.

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Yes, Jennifer, as noted on this site previously and elsewhere in the press, it is awesome that this country’s First Lady has made healthy living a top priority.

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Alexandra June 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

Glad to hear the First Lady is coming. I am convinced there is a link between obesity and endocrine disruption, which is caused by toxic chemicals in the environment AND IN PROCESSED FOOD. If you ask me, the more important people talk about eating organic the better!
Alexandra´s last [type] ..Getting Riled Up Over Toxic Chemicals 2

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Good point, Sandy.

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Kerry Dexter June 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

reading this made me wonder — is 2011 still meant to be the year of the vegetable? not of course that vegetables aren’t good in every year, but I’m thinking I heard that somewhere in connection with the White House.

I hope you’ll keep us posted should you learn the breakfast menu for the First Lady, Sarah.
Kerry Dexter´s last [type] ..rest in music

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Will do, Kerry, once reports from the press pool coverage filters out.

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Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart June 13, 2011 at 11:26 am

While I like the new food graphic better than the old one, I worry that in a country with such poor understanding of percentages … even those in graphic form … that it won’t really help. Will many think this is a prettier version of a “square meal”? Is it just my eye, or are the slices for veggies and grains the same size?

Still … I applaud the First Lady’s efforts and the whole better / real food movement.

P.S. I’ve never heard FLOTUS before, but it was quite a while before I realized what POTUS stood for … I had assumed it was a derogatory twist on pontiff. Silly me!

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Veggies slightly bigger than grains, Roxanne. As for your POTUS confusion: hilarious.

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Sheryl June 13, 2011 at 11:55 am

It’s so nice to see Michelle Obama bringing awareness to such an important issue. Wish I could be a fly on the wall at the breakfast tomorrow. I’m sure the food – and the conversation – is going to be very tasty and interesting!
!

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Agreed, Sheryl, as far as I know, though, it’s strictly pool press coverage. So, alas, I won’t be able to report back from inside the breakfast.

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Casey@Good. Food. Stories. June 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Oh, that sign at the Claremont… ouch. Glad you snapped a shot for posterity.

And I’m glad you raise the point about favoring Berkeley vs Oakland in the school lunch fight. I realize that the prestige and the money is likely in Berkeley, but will there be a trickle-down benefit to lesser neighborhoods?
Casey@Good. Food. Stories.´s last [type] ..What’s Cooler Than Being Cool Beer Ice Cubes

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I wonder if they’ll change it, Casey? Even if just for a day to something like: Welcome First Lady.

As for school lunch, the work Alice Waters and many others have done in Berkeley has translated to many other communities around the country trying to improve school food. It’s just harder without Alice, or Jamie Oliver, or some other well-known name taking on your cause. Not impossible, just harder.

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Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi June 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

Love seeing high profile folks like FLOTUS speaking about eating Real food. Food that comes out of the ground, not out of a packet!
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi´s last [type] ..Do your trees pay their rent

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Sarah Henry June 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Judging by the comments on this thread, Melanie, you have lots of company.

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Kris @ Attainable Sustainable June 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I love this. I love that Michelle Obama is bringing the idea of good food to the people. I only wish that she could influence her husband to stop catering to the GMO food industry. I’m quite confident that President and Mrs. Obama are not feeding their children GMO foods — they can afford to buy purely organic (the only way to be sure that the food is not GMO). What about the rest of us?

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Sarah Henry June 14, 2011 at 6:37 am

You’re not the first, Kris, and you won’t be the last to ask the hard questions about GMO foods.

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Jane Boursaw June 13, 2011 at 6:37 pm

What a great event. And how cool that Michelle Obama is championing for healthy food and nutrition.

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Sarah Henry June 14, 2011 at 6:39 am

It’s true, Jane, she deserves credit for making this issue front and center as First Lady.

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Neal June 14, 2011 at 8:11 am

FWIW — The Claremont Resort IS in Oakland, although it has a Berkeley mailing address.

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Sarah Henry June 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

Hi Neal,

Thanks for weighing in. As noted in my story, the hotel sits on the border between Berkeley and Oakland, and, as you point out, it has a Berkeley mailing address. There’s a whole back-and-forth about its exact location in the comment section of this post on Berkeleyside, that may be of interest:
http://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/06/10/the-claremont-hotel-gets-ready-for-michelle-obama/comment-page-1/

Do you live in or know the area? If so, then you’d appreciate my underlying point here that the neighborhood where the hotel resides is a world away from downtown Oakland.

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amee June 14, 2011 at 8:26 am

your last line made my mouth water! You’re so fortunate to live in a blue state where people know what vegetables are…BUT we are finally getting a Trader Joe’s in Texas (which is all the rage right now) so surely, vegetables are soon to follow.

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Sarah Henry June 14, 2011 at 11:29 am

According to my colleague Frances Dinkelspiel over at Berkeleyside, Obama was served poached eggs and morels from Soul Food Farms and asparagus from Green Strings Farm. You can see her live tweeting from the event in storify form right here:

http://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/06/14/first-lady-michele-obama-has-breakfast-in-berkeley/

As for Trader Joes, while I’m a fan of their non-perishable pantry items, their produce, much of which comes in extensive packaging, doesn’t wow me for a host of reasons.

And then, of course, there’s this:
http://www.zesterdaily.com/zester-soapbox-articles/944-trader-joes-says-no-to-increase-for-florida-tomato-farmworkers

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merr June 14, 2011 at 11:16 am

What a momentous occasion in so many ways. Just terrific.

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Sarah Henry June 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm

As you’ll see here, the First Lady thanked Alice Waters, though she didn’t get to eat. But she did get to stump for the President’s re-election campaign, which was the purpose of her trip:

http://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/06/14/over-eggs-and-toast-first-lady-seeks-campaign-support/

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Jeanine Barone June 14, 2011 at 7:11 pm

As a nutritionist, I’m really excited that finally people will be hopefully paying more attention to health, fitness and eating well, thanks to Michelle Obama. Nutrition has always taken a back seat to so many other issues in our society. Yet, it plays a huge role in the health of Americans, something that affects all of us on so many levels.

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Sarah Henry June 14, 2011 at 7:12 pm

Well said, Jeanine, thanks for weighing in.

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MyKidsEatSquid June 16, 2011 at 8:49 am

I really like the new plate method versus that confusing vertical pyramid to talk to kids about food options. It’s so much simpler and more visual. Cool that FLOTUS was in your town.

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Sarah Henry June 17, 2011 at 5:30 am

Yeah, it only took the government years to come up with an image for what health-conscious eaters have known for ages: More greens, less carbs and meat.

For a bit of fun, check out how Ruth Bourdain reimagined My Plate:
http://ruthbourdain.tumblr.com/post/6119447875/there-that-looks-better

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Anna, The Lemon Lady July 11, 2011 at 11:46 pm

I guess I was too busy picking fruit to notice Mrs. Obama in town. Just catching up on some old news. Still love your blog and come to it for good writes about good eats. Does that make sense?

Ah, just wish Mrs. Obama would come around and pick some fruit off a tree. Forget the fundraisers. Politics :( Fruit is free. Wish more kids would get out of Farmville and get real. Gardens are great. But soooooooo much wasted fruit on the trees, too. Even in the food deserts of Oakland, there are decades old fruit trees that produce real fruit. I realize humanitarian work happens in every neighborhood, but someone bigger needs to address the fruit gleaning possibilities. Millions, upon millions of dollars of throw-away food. Such a shame. I can remember being hungry…as a child. Now, collecting fruit is just a passion.

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