Editor’s Note: Barack Obama was inaugurated as President of the United States, elected on a platform of change, on Jan. 20, 2009. He took the oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as the country confronted its gravest set of circumstances in at least a generation.
A year into the Obama presidency, the Gazette invited leaders in their fields to write about the changes still needed, nationally as well as locally.
Obama’s election brought so much hope and excitement about what can be done — nationally and even internationally — when people are engaged at the local, grassroots level. The community of American chefs, farmers, food activists and writers was certainly touched by this spirit, and we have watched, and pushed, for good food to move out of an elitist niche and into its rightful place as a common denominator amongst all Americans.
The Obama administration has been pushing this issue right along with us — from Michelle Obama’s appearance on Sesame Street, talking about the importance of fruits and vegetables, to a new farmers market just a few feet from the White House. Personally, I have been deeply involved with a series of dinners that began last year over inauguration weekend. These Art.Food.Hope dinners, which I chair with Alice Waters, symbolize a type of inauguration for the culinary community — ushering in an eagerness to come together for a greater, populist cause — 12 of America’s most renowned chefs, uniting in D.C. with 60 volunteer servers and a dozen volunteer hosts to raise over $100,000 in one night for local food banks. The event is happening again next week, this year under the banner of Sunday Night Suppers: Focus on Food. The incredible enthusiasm to participate exhibited by chefs, hosts and volunteers is proof that the hope and inspiration that began last year is in 2010 continuing to gain momentum.
Food is beginning to be understood for the powerful role it can play in creating change — healthier people, healthier economies, healthier planet and healthier communities. We need to continue in this direction — pushing our leaders to legislate for education in public schools around food and nutrition and requiring high quality school lunches for our kids. Investing in health up front, on both a personal and legislative level — through food — rather than paying out the back with health care cost of obesity and poor diet-related maladies. On a grassroots level, I believe that Martha’s Vineyard has done more as a community than anywhere else I have visited in America. With a strong slow foods movement, local farmers’ market, the Island Grown Initiative and the Farm Institute, Martha’s Vineyard is truly a model for the rest of the country to follow.
One of the most meaningful parts of my career is listening to people’s stories. As the Obama campaign showed us, incredible things can be accomplished when neighbors start to talk. This year I encourage everyone to talk to people in their communities about food and all it symbolizes for them. Conversations like these are the birthplace of ideas and undoubtedly the way we begin to work together for change.
Joan Nathan is a summer resident of Chilmark, the author of numerous cookbooks and the executive producer and host of the PBS series Jewish Cooking in America with Joan Nathan. Her upcoming book, Quiche, Kugel and Couscous: In Search of Jewish Cooking in France (Knopf) is due out in the fall of 2010.