White House Kitchen Garden a Facade?

The White House has certainly touted it’s Kitchen Garden, even going so far as to having it featured as the “theme ingredient” on a special Iron Chef:America. I am sure the first lady is passionate and devoted to the sustainable, local and/or organic lifestyle. Mrs. Obama certainly seems sincere in her concerns for the environment and in rescuing our children from the obesity epidemic created by agribusiness juggernauts like Monsanto and their foot soldiers, the fast food industry.

I do not, however, believe her husband cares about these issues. After all his actions suggest an ambivalence reminiscent of his predecessor. Supposedly, pandering to big business is the realm of Republicans but President Obama has dangerously littered the government with agribusiness pawns.

Despite being given a list of 12 qualified candidates (known as the sustainable dozen) for key positions in his administration, the President has made numerous suspect appointments to bureaus charged with protecting the public’s welfare. No, suspect is not the right word, nefarious is more accurate. The conflict of interest created by these appointments is borderline criminal, not unlike naming John Dillinger Secretary of the Treasury.

Take the President’s choice to head the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Vilsack has long been a champion of genetically modified (GM) corn and other grains. Genetically modifying corn to be more resistant to herbicides was a process developed by Monsanto in the 1970’s. But, as science has since proven, GM corn is the root cause of every e coli outbreak on record. Ever.

Vilsack has such a notorious reputation for being a puppet for agribusiness mega corporations that a satirical PSA was actually commissioned by environmentalists. That’s right, environmentalists are opposed to this Democrat. Here’s the video:

After being pummeled by his own supporters for selling out the USDA to Biotech, Obama did throw them a bone. The President named Kathleen Merrigan, director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment Program at Tufts University (and one of the sustainable dozen) as his Sustainable Foods Czar. Sure it is just a token gesture and the position is largely meaningless but it calmed the masses. At least for a while.

Another one of President Obama’s appointments was naming Michael Taylor as special assistant to the FDA Commissioner for food safety. Taylor will actually be making laws that affect the profitability of Monsanto, the primary client of his employer prior to joining the Obama administration. Before working for Monsanto, Taylor was part of the George H W Bush administration, again making policy for the FDA. Prior to that stint with the FDA, Taylor worked for Monsanto. His resume is the very definition of “conflict of interest.”

Green publication The Huffington Post has called Taylor, “The person who may be responsible for more food-related illness and death than anyone in history,” here’s what else they had to say:

If GMOs are indeed responsible for massive sickness and death, then the individual who oversaw the FDA policy that facilitated their introduction holds a uniquely infamous role in human history. That person is Michael Taylor. He had been Monsanto’s attorney before becoming policy chief at the FDA. Soon after, he became Monsanto’s vice president and chief lobbyist.

Now Barrack Obama is not the first President to turn the keys to the nation’s safety over to Monsanto. As mentioned above the first President Bush also employed Michael Taylor despite an obvious conflict of interest. President Bill Clinton had a troubling number of his advisers moving into lucrative positions with Monsanto once his term was over, like Marcia Hale an assistant to the President for intergovernmental relations. It’s certain that the so-called “Monsanto revolving door” is not one of Obama’s promised changes.

The President naming the head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, Lisa Jackson, to lead the EPA has raised an eyebrow or two. Jackson does not have documented ties to big business like Taylor or Vilsack. At the same time she has shown an alarming familiarity with lobbyists even going so far as to hire corporate lobbyists like Nancy Wittenberg to work on her staff.

While most feel Jackson’s tenure with the NJDEP was marred in ineffective leadership and finger-pointing, some environmentalist groups insist that her lack of production was not her fault. Apparently the one thing that both sides agree on is that Jackson accomplished nothing during her term.

As his Surgeon General, President Obama has picked Alabama physician Regina Benjamin. Dr. Benjamin was given the assignment of helping Americans get healthier. Her work with rural, impoverished patients in the heart of Katrina country is quite noble. But the well documented fact that she accepted $10,000 from Burger King just before joining the Obama regime is understandably curious.

The money was purportedly for serving on a nutritional advisory panel with the fast food giant. There is something peculiar about the nation’s top doctor being on the payroll of a company that produces the Angry Whopper, a sandwich with 1120 calories (657 from fat), 175 mg of cholesterol, 73 grams of total fat, 25 of which are saturated, three are the heart disease causing trans fats. Oh, and let’s not forget that virtually everything Burger King sells incorporates Monsanto’s Frakencorn into it, the burgers, the buns, even the soft drinks.

Though the national media have tried to portray these appointments as positive moves, farm-to-table advocates do not share in the enthusiasm. Sure there are a handful of White House orchestrated blogs like Obama Foodorama whose job is to spin these Presidential missteps, but most have found the business-as-usual appointments disconcerting.

If the White House Kitchen Garden inspires others to plant their own then that is outstanding. Surely growing the vegetables that are used in the White House does slightly lower the burden on the over-taxed citizenry. The first lady is setting a wonderful example. And while it is a quaint idea, from the outside looking in it appears to be just another parlor trick. Clearly the President’s stance on the environment lacks transparency.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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