Obama on Food

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Bush White House chef may have served organic meals to the First Family, but many food policy watchers were unhappy with food and farm policy in the U.S. throughout the Bush administration. How will things change under Obama? Leonard talks to Gourmet magazine’s Ruth Reichl and New York Times food writer Kim Severson.


Ruth Reichl and Kim Severson

Comments [41]

Mara Farrell from Hudson Valley

Thank you DH from New York, NY for giving the information about Roger Dhourian and the website. It was great learning about him.

Jan. 31 2009 11:09 AM
DH from NY, NY

The gentleman representing Kitchen Gardeners Intl that spoke yesterday was Roger Dhourain (sp?)from Scarborough, Maine. He was the best part of the show! Check out the website:

Jan. 28 2009 12:36 PM
grumpy from nyc

Ground beef in Citarella = $4.99 per pound. Ground beef from the Union Sq. Farmers market = $20 per pound.
Enough with the 2 smug birds with good incomes rattling on about eating better food chitchat and start by making it affordable.

Jan. 28 2009 11:13 AM
Mara Farrell from Hudson Valley

There was a great gentleman interviewed by phone on this show who promotes families maintaining their own organic crops. I was driving in the car at the time and couldn't stop to write it down. Can someone give me his name or website? Thanks so much.

Jan. 28 2009 08:36 AM
Moyashi from Maryland

Also, I need to address your claim that organic farming isn't as efficient as industrial farming. Actually, industrial agriculture is very inefficient. Not only does it waste water, destroy soil, and require enormous inputs of pesticides, as well as cheap, exploited labor, but it also relies on billions of dollars in federal subsidies. So considering that organic farmers are able to generate tremendous output from much less land and resources, it's actually a more fiscally responsible and sustainable business model.

Jan. 27 2009 09:27 PM
Moyashi from Maryland

JP, I think your gripe is with US agricultural policy and how it's skewed to favor agribusiness and hurt small farmers. It will take many years to reform, but in the meantime, it's possible for industrial and small, organic farms to coexist, because they don't compete for the same markets. So at this point, I don't think the issue is how to convert every farm to organic. My sense is that people within the organic, local food movement feel it's time for politicians to recognize that they are becoming a powerful, politically involved and outspoken consumer force and that they want food and agricultural policies to reflect the changing times and will of the people.

Jan. 27 2009 08:54 PM
Debra Hackett from NY, NY

Can anyone tell me the name of the farmer from Maine who spoke on today's show...Walter? Did he mention his website address? Thanks.

Jan. 27 2009 08:35 PM
JP from Hackensack

Moyashi from Maryland,

So does your organic marketing plan include the thousands of 1000 plus acre farms in the Midwest owned by hard working families (not ADM)? And if it doesn’t, what are you going to do with these farmers? And if they are in your plan, why not get them involved now? Why wait or not get them involved at all? Have you ever talked to a farmer in Iowa or Illinois? IF had, I’ll guarantee he loves the land more then you ever could. It’s his life and its in his blood. Chances are he was born into farming and its all he has ever done. The problem is he has to get every kernel from every acre just to make ends meet. Remember, he does not set the price for corn, wheat or soy. The market does. If you show him a better way to efficiently use his 1000+ acre farm to grow crops that he can actually make ends meet with, I guarantee you he would start yesterday. So again, I ask how can you not include the people that grow most of the food in America in your organic marketing plan right now as in today?

Jan. 27 2009 07:37 PM
Moyashi from Maryland

Hi Carol, You're thinking too much in all or nothing terms. Try little steps. Buy organic whenever you can. For example, check out Environmental Working Group's shopping guide for produce. It tells you which conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contain the most pesticides, and therefore which ones you should buy organic whenever possible.

Progress is built on incremental changes. As more people support organic and local farms, the movement will continue to gain strength and as it reaches a tipping point, politicians will listen. Policy will follow, the infrastructure will build, supply will increase, and prices will go down. So in the meantime, do what you can. It's still in the early stages--in marketing terms what we call "lead users," and yes they tend to be the elites, the well-educated, the visionaries. Remember, there was a time not so long ago when personal computers and cell phones were luxury items. Hard to imagine! But someday you too can have your organic spinach, and eat it too! :)

Jan. 27 2009 07:03 PM
JP from Hackensack

And HJS,

I didn’t grow up in NJ, I grew up in a dying farm community in Massachusetts and I don’t drive an SUV and I don’t even a have a lawn let alone a green one. I work in Hewitt but I live in Hackensack. It’s a place where a lot of rich people live and I lot of poor people who I guarantee do not eat a better diet then the rich folk. I can only say that people who say anything about Midwest farming practices just don’t get it because they have never been there, And if they have, they had their eyes closed the whole time…. Don’t blame the framer, it’s the food chain and how its set up. You have to mass produce food to feed 300 million people. Not everyone has a backyard to grow stuff and not everyone has access to local farm produce. Open your eyes, this is a huge country. Not everything is conveniently located like they are in cute quaint Manhattan... That being said, for organics to be able to realistically work, it has to be way more efficient (on a local or mass produced level) to succeed. Which means you have to include the Midwest farmers. Yes they are growing corn you can even eat and it is killing us. But without them, all the little farms in this country, organic or not would not even come close to feeding 300 million people and a good chunk of the rest of the world. You have to reset the system and when you do, those 60 year old farmers that everyone thinks they know all about will be your only friends that can realistically help feed this nation.

Jan. 27 2009 06:41 PM
JP from Hackensack

anonyme from Midtown,

Yes, my parents who were born in the early thirties and grew up with a garden in the back yard with chickens and so on. They did eat a good diet. Ironically, they had a garden and chickens because they could not afford to eat store bought food (this was during the real depression). It was out of pure necessity, not because they were trying to eat healthy or save the environment. They also grew up in a time when the country only had half the population it has now. And if you want to talk about farming practices back then, I have two words, dust bowl…. Read up on it. It was an ecological disaster that was completely avoidable and completely man made.

Your parent’s time you romanticize about is long gone and never to return. The average age of the US farmer is 60. Who is going to be the grass roots farmers for your food revolution? Farmers can’t even find enough labor in the US as it is already. So I ask again, where are you going to get all these people who will be will to work at an AG wage which is far less then the minimum wage? Would you work for less then minimum wage? Sure you could pay more but then you have to charge more at the market. That doesn’t help anyone. They don’t teach farming in public schools. Where are kids going to learn to be farmers when farmers themselves are literally a dying breed?

As for feeding the world, your right, we don’t have to. But like it or not the reality is since we have the natural resources to do so, we are expected to do so. You can’t expect the world to be our friends if we don’t share.

Oh and Europe does practice industrial framing on a very large scale and the industry is only getting bigger. Plus Europe is feeding a decreasing population, US is feeding a forever growing population.

Jan. 27 2009 06:41 PM
Carol from NJ

wrong HJS

Multiple family dwelling, Honda Civic

lots of invective, but still no plan from you guys

Jan. 27 2009 05:03 PM
hjs from 11211

you're right we have to start somewhere.
some of our NJ neighbors don't see that their SUVs and emerald green green lawns are part of the problem. they want us to live on corn syrup and cheap beef products and pretend there is no obesity crisis. the same ilk that says we are not addicted to oil, I guess.
having grown up in NJ the lifestyle makes me sick, the evil greed and sinful selfishness. I hope they weren't planning on their kids having the same comfy life they did
as for carol's mocking statements, I can only assume she was trying for humor. no one is saying fresh veg can be grown year round in the northeast or in NYC.
preserve what you can AKA canned and frozen products,) use root vegetables for soups and stews in the winter and the rest, yes some will come from florida and california (I'm not giving up citrus or avocados, but nothing has less taste than a california tomato in february.) as for my attempt at humor carol's lucky I'm not king. I'd tear down her subdivision, put all those 1/2 acres to better use as local farms feeding the cities.

Jan. 27 2009 04:56 PM
Carol from NJ


You have a political position without a viable plan.

Surely you don't think that if everyone ate organ meats (fashionable as it might be) that we'd have a solution? Organic locally grown food is lovely but not available or affordable for most of us, and really, how many people do you think can be sustained by the farms in the Hudson Valley?

I fail to see how shopping at Whole Paycheck and feeling virtuous makes any appreciable dent in this problem and I'll say it again - it's elitist.

Jan. 27 2009 04:01 PM
anonyme from Midtown

And Jon P - the movement is about staying local, not eating midwestern mass production in the midwest. let them keep their farms and find their markets. In Europe there is this kind of reclamation going on - western countries who allowed US industry to start to to undermmine their food system now see that they have to compete with the eastern european products which are now better - and they want their traditions - and their good food and money - back! I see my choice as pay for good food or pay the pharmaceuticals to treat the illnesses the industrial foods cause and suffer teh side effects. (I personally reversed osteoporosis with raw milk in 15 months and it was delicious the whole way. My mother's generation studied home economics and knew how to nourish their families. We gave that tradition to teh A&P. We can take it back. Read Weston Price (Nutrition and Physical Degeneration) and learn taht poor and outcast people did better health and nutrition wise than we do. We look so inept next to them. This is not an elitist pipe dream, and it's not the midwest.

Jan. 27 2009 03:56 PM
anonyme from Midtown

Jon P - 1) Rome was not built in a day 2) if you look in the Hudson Valley, you wil see farms being revived. The idea is a grass roots reshaping. have you been alive long enough to notice how many times in America the people have done this? Did you ever read about Victory gardens in wartime? Mass agriculture is an extension of teh war machine. It was not always this mass food system - that happened in my lifetime. My parents ate healthy food - everyone did. They also ate differently - every edible part of a given food was used - organ meats, bones, etc. No we cannot sustain mass agriculture and we can't thrive on food products - what caused the spinach contamination was shipping food across the country. We are not the world's mother!

Jan. 27 2009 03:42 PM
Jon P. from Hewitt, NJ

Wake up and smell the coffee. The Idea that existing small farms could feed our country of 300 million people and sustain a good chunk of the rest of t he world at the same time is pure fantasy. You would have to create thousands of new “small farms”. How are you going to pay for this? Land cost is insane everywhere and good luck finding land that’s even zoned for farming. Who’s going to work on these farms and get their hands dirty? People writhing in to WNYC that love their organic foods? Maybe a few but not nearly enough to save the world. There was a time that 50% of the population worked on US farms. But that was over 100 years ago. What are you going to do with the huge 1000 acre farms in the mid west (which are what’s called family farms out there)? Just take away their land and divide it up? Would you willingly give away land your family has worked for several generations? Go to Iowa and you’ll see what I mean. What you call commercial farmers are not driving around in Cadillac’s paid for by farm subsidies. These are people that make next to nothing after all the bills are paid and put more blood and sweat into their work then anyone writing in these forums.

Organic movement has to realize it has to work in mass production because that’s the way the system is set up. It’s easy to say “well just change it”. I encourage you to visit any real farming community out in the Midwest. Heck, go and work on one of these farms for just a day and you’ll see a completely different world form your sheltered NYC existence. Much more science has to go into organic farming to make it way more efficient. When it can become competitive on a national level with industrial farming, then you can realistically change the system. Until then I have to say Organic farming is a rich man’s hobby.

Jan. 27 2009 03:19 PM
Carol from NJ


Because the vast majority of people who have access to land own it. Maybe not as expensive in NJ as in Park Slope, but certainly not available to many, and less available to those for whom money is scarce.

So educate me, what thrifty and healthy edibles do you harvest in January in Brooklym?

Jan. 27 2009 03:11 PM
Vic from Park Slope

Why is growing your own food considered elitist? In places like New Jersey, where land is more readily available, growing your own food is a cheaper option.

Growing our own foods contributes positively to our wellbeing, our knowledge and our environment. We did it for centuries until technology took over. We are in a situation now (economic crisis, global warming) that can be improved by people making smarter food choices, because we would be using less oil to produce food that is bad for us, and we would be spending less, too. Perhaps if Americans were better educated about food and nutrition, our choices would force the food manufacturers to do away with the poisons like high fructose corn syrup that plague this country.

Jan. 27 2009 02:57 PM
Carol from NJ

Brooklyn Mom -

Nice for you if you have more options, but our local Farmer's market has been closed for months and won't reopen till next summer.

Maybe in Brooklyn frozen is more expensive than fresh, but here in the hinterlands, not so.

Jan. 27 2009 02:19 PM
Mary Ruiz

Good talk, and agree w/most of it.
BUT, I just returned from New Orleans, 9th ward...where time stood still. The available supermarkets are out of reach, both b/se of economic and distance. We (a number of HS students from NYC, conducted a small study interviewing residents of the area. Sure, they would all love to eat organic and more vegetables...but they are expensive, not available in the crummy little neighborhood stores that accept food stamps...the big supermarkets?too far and expensive (Whole Foods). Suggestion: work out a deal w/local growers and Whole foods for delivery trucks once or 2X a week to the 9th ward area, that accept food coupons, offering organic products and vegetables as part of the reconstruction effort. That would be a nice project for famous food editors that could render immediate results.

Jan. 27 2009 02:06 PM
anonyme from Midtown

This is NOT an elitist topic!!! Everybody eats!If you want to learn about how to eat good food when you are not rich, that's very doable! Don't call it elitist! That implies that non-elites have to eat poison! Americans are great organizer! Michael Pollan is a great writer and informer and educator - a grass roots leader which is nothing to sniff at.

Jan. 27 2009 01:58 PM
Meena from Plainfield

Shana - please recall the scare that surrounded certain organic spinach. You are correct.

Jan. 27 2009 01:58 PM
Shana from Brooklyn

With the gardening movement, is there any attention being paid to the safety and cleanliness of soil in which food is being grown? I wholly support people growing their own food, but it seems potentially dangerous in cities where soil might be contaminated. I have had soil tested at two Brooklyn apartments in which I've lived, both of which had very high and unacceptable levels of lead. We were advised not to plant food in this soil. Is this a real concern, and if so, is it being addressed by people who are advocating individual food gardens?

Jan. 27 2009 01:52 PM
Meena from Plainfield

To NYC Mom and other show listeners
I have to agree with Carol above about the elititst nature of the discussion. Ruth Riechl is wrong for beating up on Barak because she thinks he is not doing enough on the food front.

Jan. 27 2009 01:52 PM
anonyme from Midtown

we live in such a denatured world - eating denatured foods and out of touch with our senses.

I would like to have enough land to have chickens running around - so many people can't imagine how good eggs are supposed to be!

Prince Charles set up markets throughout London - assisted by our own Nina Plank (have her on, Leonard!) -

Obama did pick a questionable aggie secy

Jan. 27 2009 01:49 PM
NYC mom from brooklyn, ny

buying frozen vegetables is far, far more expensive than buying from a farmer's market and cooking it yourself. it also has long-term impact: on the environment, your health, and more.

Jan. 27 2009 01:46 PM
Carol from NJ

Food professionals and their followers must already spend so much money on food that organics aren't much more expensive than the artichokes and arugula (sp? Word's not recognizing this) they're already buying.

For my ground beef and frozen vegetable crowd, battered by the economy and looking to spend less, this is an elitist discussion (again).

Jan. 27 2009 01:43 PM
NYC mom from brooklyn, ny

and I have to add, like her or not, Ruth Reichl is a smart foodie who has had a tremendous impact on food culture in this country. thanks for having her on.

Jan. 27 2009 01:43 PM
anonymous from NY

Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury

Jan. 27 2009 01:42 PM
anonyme from Midtown


Sally fallon (who is infinitely more factual and interesting to listen to) is comig to NY Feb 20th and giving her "Oiling of America" lecture (also on dvd if you can't make it) - info probably available on

Jan. 27 2009 01:41 PM
NYC mom from brooklyn, ny

I think for most people, particularly politicians, to buy into the importance of sustainable food, the link between health care, economics, and the environment needs to be made more clear to all. Right now, it seems only those IN the movement understand and speak on that.

Jan. 27 2009 01:41 PM
anonyme from Midtown

I agree with George.

Also remember what Oprah went through over beef!

We as people are empowered to research and buy what we want

Jan. 27 2009 01:37 PM
earl de kay from port washington, N.Y.

What are heirloom apples? From where and what's their season? Where can be had?

Jan. 27 2009 01:36 PM
Roman from Brooklyn

The influence of major corporations in the agricultural industry cannot be glossed over in any discussion of healthier and "better" food. In fact it is the deciding factor between a feel-good discussion and a sober one. Please ask your guests to comment.

Thank you.

Jan. 27 2009 01:35 PM
anonyme from Midtown

family home cooking is a way not to be elitist about food!!!

Leonard when are you going to have Sally Fallon/Mary Enig on??/

Also Joel Salatin

Michael Pollan says health care depends on good food! We need serious education!

Jan. 27 2009 01:32 PM
Honesty from Mount Kisco

George is right (above). Ruth Riechl confronted Obama without knowing that the PPhilippine-American chef he had reappointed from George Bush was doing organic and locally grown cooking. Leonard - please question Ruth on this!

Jan. 27 2009 01:31 PM
robert from park slope

While I would love to see a heathier food policy come from Washington, I can't see how a President that has a relatively -- pardon the pun -- full plate, will spend time and political capital promoting policies that will raise food costs and alienate farm states.

Jan. 27 2009 01:28 PM
George Bendemann from Manhattan

Ruth Riechl is a self promoting blowhard. She was dead wrong about Obama and his use of Bush's organic chef.

Jan. 27 2009 01:25 PM
Kendra from Flushing, NY

I would love to see the proposed organic garden on the front lawn come to life. If our society had a positive example of organic gardening, I am confident more households would attempt in their own yards or windowsills. Communities should be inspired to support more neighborhood gardens and co-ops.

Jan. 27 2009 12:45 PM
anonyme from Midtown

I predict a grass roots movement (not "elitist") in the direction of farm-to-consumer and organic food - remember the 70s, when people went for food co-ops? I think people have had it with contaminated foods.

I joined a buying club whose Farmers bring gorgeous dairy, meats and produce directly to us (ever had Amish lard-cooked potato chips? MMM! - that was 3 years ago and it has grown exponentially since. And when I gave a gallon of raw milk to my neighbor with 4 kids, she told me it cost less than what she paid at the supermarket for milk! I can't eat store bought eggs after finding out about pasture eggs. the butter is cultured (made from sour cream)and tastes like what I ate in the Alps wehn I lived there. MMMM. "Legalize Milk" made it onto the list of changes for the new administration. So for her support of small dairy farms upstate, I support our new senator.

Jan. 27 2009 12:13 PM

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