I'm not sure what Michelle Obama's most lasting legacy will be. Will she be associated with a cause like Nancy Reagan's just-say-no, antidrug campaign or more broadly iconic like Jackie Kennedy? As the first African-American First Lady, probably the latter. But the marriage of her office and the moment makes me think her interest in what and how we eat may be as enduring as anything else.
Known already for fulfilling the dreams of foodies everywhere by planting a vegetable garden at the White House, the First Lady attended the opening of the first farmers market near the White House yesterday. I was going to go but when I saw the Tweets of fellow foodies about how long the lines were and the security required to get in---perhaps the first marriage of magnetometers and heirloom tomatoes--I decided to forego standing in a throng to see the First Lady. Besides, I'd already spent too much on Gerber Daisies and Emmanthaler Swiss at Whole Foods anyway.
Obviously, lots of Americans were rethinking how they ate before the Obamas came to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue but Michelle is giving the cause a push in a profound way--not just through notoriety, I think, although that certainly adds rocket fuel to the pursuits of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters and The Atlantic's own Food Channel.
But the First Lady is giving what could be seen as an elite and effete movement a more populist cast. She made it a point to promote the double Food Stamps policy of local DC farmers markets whereby government recipients get twice the value of the stamps putting that
Thai eggplant within reach. By being a Chicagoan who loves burgers and fries--and isn't shy about letting interviewers know it--she's less precious than say, Alice Waters, who one has to love but who I basically wanted to deck after seeing her "60 Minutes" interview in which she pooh-poohed the idea the farmers market food is too expensive--and then proceeded to poach an egg in extra virgin olive oil in the giant fireplace in her kitchen. If the First Lady makes eating well a middle-class and working-class virtue she will have done a lot for all of us. Taking the elitism out of this movement would be a welcome thing.
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