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Michelle Obama's Iron Chef America appearance: Is it the boost the sustainable food movement needs?

By Chris Griffy | Examiner.com

The big news in the television world today is the appearance of First Lady Michelle Obama on the popular Food Network program Iron Chef America. She was there in conjunction with White House Chef Cristeta Comerford’s appearance on the show. During the show, the “secret ingredient” of the week was announced to be the entire contents of the White House garden. Michelle Obama charged the chefs with creating dishes that accentuated the principles of local produce and sustainable food.

Since her husband took office, Michelle Obama has been a vocal champion of proper nutrition, locally produced foods, and sustainable agriculture practices. While the so-called “Locavore” movement has been around for years, it has never had such a high profile spokesman to push it.

Certainly First Ladies have used their own unique version of the “bully pulpit” to influence cultural trends in the past. Lady Bird Johnson was the first major celebrity to shed light on America’s litter problems and helped introduce the concept of civic beautification. Betty Ford was a vocal champion of the Equal Rights Amendment and, through her personal battle with alcoholism, helped draw into the light an illness that had remained hidden. Nancy Reagan was arguably the most successful First Lady with her “Just Say No” campaign which has been credited with helping to stem the increases in teenage drug abuse.

Can Michelle Obama follow in her predecessors’ footsteps and help to push the local and sustainable food movement farther into the mainstream? She remains an extremely popular figure, with approval ratings that consistently hover around 80%, compared to the 47% enjoyed by her husband and the 14% approval of Congress. By virtue of the First Lady’s position as the country’s “trend setter” she certainly can’t hurt a movement that is popular with most people in principle but suffers from a lack of convenience and competitive prices.

The most is that Michelle Obama, through appearances on Iron Chef America and through other media, will definitely increase awareness and use of local, seasonal, produce, but probably not enough to cause a major shift in societal trends. It’s just too convenient for most people to hit up their local mega supermarket when they need produce and it is unlikely that these national chains will be willing to negotiate deals with thousands of local producers.

Where Obama could have her most profound effect is in the sustainable agriculture movement. As the popularity of Organic produce purveyors such as Whole Foods and Fresh Market has caused mega chains like Wal-Mart and Publix to devote a section of their produce to organically grown produce, it is conceivable that Obama’s message could resonate enough to make sustainably grown produce and sustainable fish and meat sections pop up in your local food chain. While it’s unlikely to ever be the predominant method of food production or consumption in America, if Michelle Obama continues to be a strong national voice for the local and sustainable movement, it very easily be the next big food business trend.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Ron Edmonds

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