I hate the word “foodie.” For me it conjures up images of retirees on a food- and wine-driven bus tour through Tuscany, or sitting around at one acclaimed restaurant talking about a meal they had at another. (Snore.) When Ed Levine asked in his post on Serious Eats yesterday about whether Barack Obama will listen to the issues Michael Pollan brings up about food, if Barack was a “foodie,” the first thing that came to my mind was: What does that have to do with anything?
As Levine points out, people have made a big deal out of the fact that we finally have a president who appreciates good food (exhibit a: he eats at Spiaggia, a restaurant known for its “alta cucina” renditions of traditional dishes that no Italian on these shores or Italy’s would vaguely recognize), but this says as much about the times as it does about Barack. We live in a culture where arugula is a household salad green, where otherwise normal people think that coming home and watching someone cook dinner on television is a viable form of entertainment, and where people aspire to eat at restaurants such as Spiaggia as if crossing off items on a scavenger hunt.
But Barack won’t be brought to the Michael Pollan way because of his love of pork belly or Umbrian black truffles, but because of his love for his country and his kids. Whether he knows it yet or not, food matters. As one of the cooks told me when I did an internship at Chez Panisse several years ago, “Food is the last politics to hit people,” but the country and Barack seem to be showing every signs of being at a breaking point–ready to be hit by this last politcs. If Barack is as good a listener as he promises to be, it shouldn’t be any effort at all to convince him that hiring a White House chef who pulls his turnips from a garden steps away from the kitchen he’s working in, who insists on grains grown and milled by American artisans, and meats raised in a humane, environmentally friendly way, is not the “foodie,” thing to do. It’s the American thing to do.