Michelle Obama: Diet for Postpartisan Politics

The first lady launches a White House farmers market. Could her food agenda unite the nation?

Posted by Madeline Ostrander at Sep 18, 2009 03:53 PM |
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Michelle Obama: Diet for Postpartisan Politics

Michelle Obama works in the White House's new organic garden with students from Washington's Bancroft Elementary School. Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian, courtesy of the White House

If anyone could revolutionize the way Americans eat, it's Michelle Obama. Whether championing a locally grown carrot, or making a splash in the pages of People's "10 Best-Dressed" of 2009, there is something almost unassailable about Michelle, a combination of grace and canniness that allows her to rise above much political snarkery.

On Thursday, Michelle presided over the opening of a White House farmers market, her newest effort to promote healthy eating following the success of the White House kitchen garden. It's not a publicity stunt but a working market that the Washington, DC, nonprofit FreshFarm will run every Thursday through the end of October.

As she told the crowd of government workers and school kids to eat their vegetables, she wasn't just speaking to them or to "arugula-chomping lefties" (something Mother Jones' Ben Buchwalter cautioned against).

She was actually talking to the nation, not just about some stands of kale, potatoes, and locally made cheese, but about health, wellness, fairness, and the need to supply nutritious food to low-income communities. She told us about a return to community and local food economies, and about recognizing the work of the America's food producers.

"Sometimes it turns out that the food that is the least healthy for us can … be the cheapest," she said. "Even with the best intentions … no matter what our salaries are, no matter what our positions are, we care about our kids … but in this society today, sometimes it's hard to make regular healthy meals a part of everyone's existence … This is one of the reasons I'm so supportive of farmers markets."

ObamaFoodarama, a blog that tracks the "Obama foodscape," writes:

Mrs. Obama did it all without indicting anyone, without pitching her message as a battle between good and evil—a kind of discourse that has long dogged the American good food movement and prevented it from gaining traction with a bigger audience … she’s managed to mainstream a very progressive food policy agenda, and bring it to the biggest audience it's ever had … in a little less than ten minutes yesterday, in a speech that earned a lot of laughs from the thrilled crowd, Mrs. Obama once again showed why she's the new leader of the American food movement.

The first lady's approach to food is subtle but profound, and perhaps more truly postpartisan than anything the president himself has succeeded in doing. She is taking a handful of simple, material things that unite Americans—like food, fairness, and taking care of our kids—and using them to educate the public on a food agenda that could transform both our dietary habits and our agricultural economy.

For clips of Michelle Obama's speech, you can watch this video from the Associated Press:


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