Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The White House Garden

Organic Panic
Michelle Obama's garden and its discontents.
By Christopher Beam
Posted Thursday, June 4, 2009, at 9:35 PM ET

When Michelle Obama planted an organic garden on the White House lawn—which, she told NBC this week, has already yielded more than 80 pounds of produce—the response was overwhelmingly positive. (The main criticism: She should cook, too.) The Obamas' high-profile trip to New York included dinner at the impossibly local/organic/humane restaurant Blue Hill. (Main criticism: too predictable.) She even appeared on Sesame Street to champion the benefits of healthy eating. (Main criticism: no Snuffleupagus.)

Pushing organic and local foods is hardly official White House policy. So far, Five Guys is as much a part of the administration's diet as arugula. But the first lady's public statements, combined with the selection of a White House chef who favors local and organic foods, has brought more attention to what we eat than anything since Top Chef.

But beneath the nodding and smiling, there has been some grumbling. Not all sectors of the food and agriculture industry specialize in organic or local foods. "There's a lot of pushback we're hearing, a lot of whining out of that community about the first lady doing her garden," says Larry Mitchell of the American Corn Growers Association, which represents both organic and conventional farmers. "They're getting awful squeamish on this thing."

Other groups argue that organic and local foods are well and good—as long as the White House doesn't pretend that Americans can subsist on backyard heirloom tomatoes alone. "We have no problem with this concept," said Bob Young, an economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation, on The Diane Rehm Show in March. "But understand that you're making lifestyle choices here about how you want your food produced. Fine. But don't denigrate the other approaches to food production." Read More

The old adage of look before you leap should be the warning being sounded about the push for local, organic food. Just because it sounds good doesn’t mean that it is. There are drawbacks and advantages to every type of food production system. For some reason, the biggest backers of organic food can’t admit that. The final goal of agriculture in our society is to provide ourselves with enough food to eat that is affordable. Full grocery store shelves don’t happen by accident.

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