First Lady in the Garden

March 19, 2009 § 6 Comments

This is Joel‘s second guest post on Women’s Glib. Read his first post here.

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.

- Joel

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§ 6 Responses to First Lady in the Garden

  • [...] Unambiguously Ambidextrous placed an interesting blog post on First Lady in the GardenHere’s a brief overview…over rising levels of childhood obesity: the White House plants a vegetable garden.  As a climate movement head and sustainable food advocate… [...]

  • On day two of the contest, Drake finds inspiration in the history books as he cooks from the recipes of famous First Ladies. Green Shopping

  • gingerlady says:

    If I could pick any one American woman to promote green living, it would be Michelle Obama. I think that she has already shown the world that she’s a strong, hard-working, independent, and goal-driven lady who stands WITH, not BESIDE her husband. I don’t know if that distinction is clear….I just want to imply that I think she has really earned her reputation and isn’t just mimicking Barack. I think that the founding of the White House garden, lead by Michelle, will not make a ‘women-belong-at-home’ statement just because Barack is also pushing pretty hard for reform on other green fronts. It’s well-known that fixing the environment is important to him. If it wasn’t so clearly one of his priorities, I think that it would be a different story- it might send the message that the ‘second hand’ issues are only fit to be dealt with by the First Lady. But I think that it’s actually really great that we can see Michelle and her family working on something that is blatantly being prioritized highly under this new administration. I think it helps people understand that positive change can really start at the home and that personal choices can make a huge impact.

  • [...] thought about it even more when the news got out that the White House vegetable garden is Michelle Obama’s initiative. I love Michelle Obama, I love organic vegetable gardens, and I love children’s health and [...]

  • [...] thought about it even more when the news got out that the White House vegetable garden is Michelle Obama’s initiative. I love Michelle Obama, I love organic vegetable gardens, and I love children’s health and [...]

  • [...] Michelle Obama has already been talked about here (in a great post by Joel), but today I found myself spurred to write about her [...]

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