Parsnip: n. (Pastinaca sativa) is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most of them and have a stronger flavor. They are native to Eurasia and have been eaten there since ancient times.
Potato: n. a starchy, tuber (Solanum tuberosum) of the Solanaceae family. Potato is the world’s most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce after rice, wheat, and corn.
Peas: n. the small spherical seeds or the seed-pod of the legume Pisum sativum. Although treated as a vegetable in cooking, it is botanically a fruit.
In 1971 Alice co-founded the world-famous restaurant, Chez Panisse, less than a mile from my former home in Berkeley, California. Alice has been cooking, preaching and teaching “Local, Fresh, Seasonal, Organic” foods ever since, and is credited by many as the force behind America’s culinary revolution.
When my daughter attended King Jr. High, she was bringing home math word problems that favored candy, cookies and donuts to be multiplied or divided. The school lunch program depended on high fat commodity foods (vegetables??? that was the era of Reagan calling ketchup a vegetable!). As a public health educator I decided something needed to be done. I consulted with the food service on healthier menus, worked in the classroom with the kids to expose them to new more healthful foods, and with the teachers to incorporate healthier foods in the math problems.
Improvements were very slight during my daughter’s school days, but I like to think I opened the door, because a few years later, Alice (with MUCH more clout than I) came in and proposed that the school install a big vegetable garden, the “edible schoolyard“, so that kids would have a very direct experience of working in the garden, being responsible for their crops, and learning to cook and eat them. It was and is an amazing project, copied now in a number of other schools around the country.
So back to the President’s vegetable garden. I will go on record here to say that if Alice is on the case, it’s as good as done.
The next level, which will be more challenging to pull off, involves a major reworking of the USDA, the government’s incestuous involvement with agriculture (aka the giant corn, soy, beef, and pig producers). Another big gun from my home town, Michael Pollan, is on the case.
Pollan is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and best-selling author of such stupendous reads as Botany of Desire, Omnivore’s Dilemma, and In Defense of Food (and what a writer! what fascinating material, what an original mind, and he’s even funny… you can probably tell I heart Michael Pollan).
Pollan’s idea, which he wrote about at length in the New York Times Magazine before the election, is that the President (“the Farmer-in-Chief”) needs to create Department of Food – which will concern itself with re-localizing the nation’s food supply, making agriculture practices environmentally sustainable, and re-introducing Americans to real food (as opposed to food products) and cultural food practices, like -OMG! – families eating meals together.
Obama did read the article, and responded to it in an interview with Time Magazine‘s Joe Klein.
I’m still not holding my breath for the parsnip to be on the president’s plate, although it’s might tasty in a mix of roasted root veggies.
Update 1/23/09: Check out the videos at Eat the View’s website on the proposed presidential parsnip-pea-potato patch. “This Lawn is Your Lawn” and “The Garden of Eatin'” [P is for Puns… note to self: compile a post on puns – nominations accepted.]
Update 3/16/09: Check out the story about Alice as the “Mother of the Slow Food Movement” in the NY Times and definitely watch the video links listed in the last paragragh of her interview on Sixty Minutes. She makes a MEAN breakfast.