First Lady in the Garden
March 19, 2009 § 6 Comments
Welcome news to environmentalists, the sustainable food crowd, and those concerned over rising levels of childhood obesity: the White House plants a vegetable garden. As a climate movement head and sustainable food advocate, I am thrilled that the first family is sending this message. Michael Pollan and many others had called for an organic garden on the White House lawn (now we just need some solar panels on its super-insulated, green roof, but I digress) and I think it is a great symbol, a living manifesto of eating healthy, green, and locally.
I am curious though, about what message it’s sending that this is Michelle Obama’s initiative (granted, the article makes clear that the garden will mostly be worked by White House staff, and Sam Kass, an assistant chef, but the symbolism is there). Let me first say that I love Michelle, I thought her speech at the convention was one of the most moving things I saw this election cycle (and there was a lot to be moved by) and I’m very impressed by her as a woman who has managed not to give an inch, in my estimation, in her self-determined image as an incredibly strong woman and independent individual. As a role model to women (and black women no less) and an embodiment of the ‘modern-woman-who-has-it-all’ image: she’s a mother, she’s a professional, she’s intelligent, she’s funny, she’s gorgeous, she has incredibly-well-sculpted arms. I am amazed by her story, her crafting of image, and in a less crass sense, her strength and resilience.
So what does it mean that she’s taking on this debatably domestic role? I’m not trying to stake out a point – I don’t have one – but I am curious as to the interactions between these images and messages. I’m glad that the Times included the line about this project being something the whole family will contribute to (including Barack), but what are the ramifications of the first lady as a figurehead, as an advocate of health (particularly children’s health) and a home garden? The garden is as much about Michelle’s attitude towards Sasha and Malia’s (and by extension, the nation’s) diet and lifestyle as it is about the environment, probably more so. This goes kind of beyond the garden thing, first ladies are often called on to advocate for health and children’s issues, as though only women have the authority to speak on children, and as though it’s their particular issue. I don’t think anybody can deny that highlighting sustainable, local, healthy food is a worthy goal, but I guess in general I’m curious about the role of the first lady. How do you behave, knowing the symbolism of your actions and image, as a strong woman in the White House but without an official executive position?
Peace y’all, it’s good to be pitching something here at Women’s Glib.