Michelle Obama is a locavore. Or at least she’s learning to be. Before her first state dinner, she tried to summarize her culinary credo for reporters, culinary students, and all the foodies watching via C-Span’s website: “That’s the important thing about natural,” she starts. “Or”—she is momentarily confused—“local,” and then she makes a point about calories, describing a cream-of-broccoli soup that was good even without the cream. But the stumble helps. The stumble prevents her from being preachy. When it comes to eating, she is not sanctimonious (Eleanor) or haute (Jackie) or anorexic (Nancy). She seems to actually enjoy food. And if she’s discovered a new way of eating, who cares what you call it? Sometimes she says “clean food,” which seems symbolic of the purity we ascribe to the Obamas themselves.
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Not long ago it would have been demeaning to tie an apron around the First Lady’s waist. But the kitchen is now a source of power. It’s become a place where we bake policy, not just cookies. (If Hillary had known this was going to happen, would she have been more comfortable there?) These days, the politics of food—sustainable farming, food safety, organic standards, childhood obesity—all rest on this countertop.