Did I Hear A Boo?

by digby

I just heard some jerk on the radio making fun of the Obamas for growing a kitchen garden at the White House and complaining that doing it is a "distraction" from fixing the financial crisis. I'm not kidding. Charlie Cook on Hardball explained today that it is some kind of cynical, political outreach "to the gardeners." Still not kidding.

For some reason gardening really pisses people off. Even some chefs, who apparently think this is some sort of commie plot. I'm a big fan of virtually all cooking shows and waste more time watching them than I should. I particularly enjoy Anthony Bourdain and his foodie travelogues because he's such a colorful guy. But this is ridiculous:

But Obama's seemingly simple move is seen by many as a political statement akin to Eleanor Roosevelt's 1943 victory garden. Food activists, led by the California chef and Chez Panisse founder Alice Waters, have been lobbying for an organic White House garden since 1993. Now they are celebrating what they call a new "victory" garden. It sent out a message, Waters said, "that everyone can grow a garden and have free food".

Others are less sure. Chef and writer Anthony Bourdain, who penned Kitchen Confidential, caused a stir in January when he said: "We're all in the middle of a recession. Like we're all going to start buying expensive organic food and running to the green market. There's something very Khmer Rouge about Alice Waters that has become unrealistic." The White House said materials for the garden, from seeds to mulch, cost $200 (though that figure doesn't account for labour provided by the White House staff, who will perform most of the maintenance).

Encouraging people to grow their own food in a time of recession is very "Khmer Rouge?" Wow. I guess vegetable gardening and growing your own food is now seen as some sort of Stalinist plot to destroy the poor struggling corporate megafarm.

Alice Waters is a crusader for sustainability, which for some reason really makes some people see red. If you can't afford to eat organic produce, fine. Nobody's suggesting that anyone should go hungry for the cause. Quite the opposite. But buying food from local growers if you can or having your own vegetable garden or working one in a community plot really shouldn't be subject to criticism. It's a good thing that Michelle is doing --- it sets a good example for the country and gives her kids a little plot of land from which to learn about nature and food.

If getting kids to eat their vegetables by having them participate in a project to grow them in the back yard is now a controversial political act then no wonder this country is in trouble. Sheesh.

Today, the fifth-grade students from Bancroft Elementary, who will help harvest the peppers, carrots and spinach later this year, seemed happily unaware of such disagreements between culinary giants, giggling as they raked and shoveled.

"So today is getting the soil ready. Then we'll come back in a couple of weeks to actually do the planting. And then sometime in June, right - right around the time that school is over, hopefully we'll have lots of great vegetables and fruits. We'll harvest them and then we'll bring you guys into the kitchen in the White House," the first lady said.

Despite the youngsters' enthusiasm, the first lady acknowledged that some of them might still be somewhat ambivalent about vegetables: "Let's hear it for vegetables," she shouted, eliciting a cheer. "Let's hear it for fruits!" she said to more cheers. Then: "Did I hear a boo?"

*If you haven't had the good fortune to eat in one of Alice Waters' restaurants you are missing out on a divine culinary experience. Seasonal, fresh, local produce is not only good for your environment, it just tastes so good. I'm lucky because I have a fantastic Farmer's Market in my town, which means the produce is not only better, it's far cheaper. If all kids had access to such great tasting vegetables and fruits, they'd all be shouting along with Michelle Obama "let's hear it for vegetables!"

Update: Gavin M writes in to tell me that Bourdain was taken out of context. He's much less hard core on this than that comment implies.