Dear Mr. President,
I just watched the First Lady's appearance on Iron Chef America. I've been so happy with her campaign for healthier eating habits- I lived in Washington DC for close to two years during the Bush administration, and I recall how difficult it was to get good produce in the city. Between the farmer's market and the White House garden, I think it is truly admirable how the First Lady uses her considerable abilities to influence what is fashionable and popular to encourage people to be healthier.
Shortly before the 2008 election, Michael Pollan wrote a letter to the next "Farmer-in-Chief" The points he makes about how food policy affects health and energy policies demonstrates how urgently we need comprehensive changes in the way we consume, grow and subsidize food in our country. Of course, government mandates about what and how we eat would not go over well with most Americans. Making eating choices that are environmentally and health-conscious is something that many Americans would not do if they felt forced to, but making such decisions fashionable is incredibly smart. The media is inevitably going to waste time obsessing over the First Lady's toned arms or what dress she wears with which shoes to meet which head of state, and I think it is brilliant that she has turned this obsessive attention into something positive. (Though so much inane coverage would probably still make a lesser person crazy.)
I wasn't always particularly conscious about what I ate. I've been a vegetarian my entire life, but in high school I thought that my mother's quest to find bread without high-fructose corn syrup was just one of her silly eccentricities. Now I get a weekly CSA produce box and irritate the hell out of my non-Pollan-groupie friends by reading the ingredient lists on everything we eat. I'll admit, this change has been largely due to the fact that I'm better off financially than I was before. Eating organic and cooking fresh food can be affordable, but for many it remains a hallmark of elitism. I do feel that this is an area where the government could be of more help. Shouldn't it subsidize food that results in less environmental damage and less strain on our health care system? Isn't that just common sense? Why would we pay for the industrial corn and soy that make us sick and is grown with chemicals that destroy the ecosystems of our farmland? I understand that altering the flow of that much money is difficult when the recipients have so much power and influence, but shouldn't our health be worth more than that?
Regardless of the steps our government might take to make it easier, I still feel the American people, and not our government, are largely to blame. We have to start voting with our dollars, or the industry will never be forced to change. I suppose this is why I'm so pleased about the First Lady's campaign. Our approach to food as a nation does need to be re-examined. The farm bill subsidies that make corn and soy by-products so cheap should be changed. But until our country is ready for that kind of drastic change, or responsible enough to decide to do what is best for our long-term health rather than our short-term gratification, I think making it trendy to eat organic vegetables is one of the best things any First Lady could do.