On Wednesday, First Lady Michelle Obama will take part in the third planting of the White House Kitchen Garden. The garden has served as a touchpoint and centerpiece for Obama's campaign to reduce childhood obesity and improve eating habits for all Americans, but particularly for America's children.
Started for just $200 in March 2009, the garden grows fruits and vegetables year-round and is now 1,500 square feet. The garden provides crops used in White House meals from small family gatherings to state dinners, and any excess produce is donated to Miriam's Kitchen, a D.C.-area food shelter.
The garden is also preserving history, wrote Heather Lacey of Can You Dig It. Some of the heirloom vegetables grown there originated at another presidential garden.
The White House vegetable garden uses vegetable seeds saved from the gardens at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. Jefferson was responsible for bringing many fresh vegetables to America—he reportedly asked for vegetable seeds to be brought back when anyone he knew went abroad.
Eddie Gehman Kohan of Obama Foodorama attended last year's planting, which featured this moment of levity:
Mrs. Obama, her kid helpers, and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass did a little planting dance ceremony around a box of rhubarb.
"Grow, rhubarb, grow!" Mrs. Obama chanted as she waved her hands over the box, and everyone joined in.
"You gotta get your hips into it, Sam!" Mrs. Obama instructed her policy advisor as they danced, and Kass obliged with some funky moves.
Though public health experts across the country have applauded Obama's garden initiative, there has been a groundswell of conservative criticism of the First Lady in recent months. Her public focus on healthy diets means that any perceived nutritional misstep has been held up as hypocritical. Molly Gilroy of A Patriotic Nurse wrote about the conservative perspective, and pointed out some criticism of the menu at a recent White House gathering:
...the Obamas were criticized by Boston-based nutrition experts for serving mostly junk food at the White House Super Bowl party, according to The Boston Globe. Mitali Shah of the Boston Medical Center said that the First Lady could have set a better example by offering healthy alternatives such as salad or vegetables to balance the spread of hot dogs, pizza and Buffalo wings.
The annual garden planting, however, provides an opportunity to focus media attention back onto how the effort, in concert with the rest of the Let's Move obesity prevention initiative, has the potential to raise the health of more than just America's kids.
"...even though the campaign centers on childhood obesity, folks in every age range will reap the net benefits. That is, of course, particularly important to both black and Latino communities, where mortality rates from diabetes, heart disease and other obesity-related health problems are depressingly high," wrote Juell Stewart of Colorlines. "The reality is that, for communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, the deck is stacked in favor of unhealthy choices. From industry to government to public education, the First Lady has worked to change that imbalance."
What do you think of the First Lady's White House garden project? Has it affected how you think about nutrition and food options? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo by USDAgov, shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) License.
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