Boston: John McCain and Barack Obama have gone on record stating their positions on a host of subjects — from faith and the war in Iraq to abortion rights and public health policy. Now they will soon have to state their policy on the most unexpected — would they rather eat salad greens and fresh veggies from the White House’s kitchen garden, or continue to have their salad greens from wherever the executive chef of the White House prefers to buy it?
In what is looking like a slow but concerted movement to get their presidential candidates to commit their views on food policy, a growing community of Americans are getting online and voting for something that, on the face of it, looks like a joke. Over a thousand Americans have logged on to On DayOne.org, a website where citizens are registering their expectations of what they want their new President to take up on day one in the White House, hoping this would be a step forward in improving how the US is percieved in the world.
Voters are urging the presidential candidates to start gardening, or set up a kitchen garden within the White House. At last count 1100 people had voted in favour of the idea that was posted on the website by Roger Doiron, veteran environmentalist and founder of Kitchen Gardeners International , a body which encourages families across the world to at least partly grow the food they consume.
Food garden in the White House
Doiron logged on to www.OnDayOne.org in February this year and called upon the next president to announce plans for a food garden on the White House lawn, putting one of the White House’s eight gardeners in charge of it. Part of the produce from the garden could go to the White House kitchen and the rest to a local food pantry. Adopting such an idea would show the world a way to meet global challenges like climate change and food security.
After a 10-year stint at Brussels where he worked with Friends Of The Earth , the world’s largest grassroots environmental network where he worked on issues related to food policy and environment, he now lives at Scarborough , Maine where he grows an abundant garden of his own.
The growing support to Doiron’s idea is, one of the indicators of the average American’s concern about his/ her life , economic stability and food security. Last month was the sixth straight month for job cuts in the country and with 62,000 jobs off the payroll, the labour department’s announcement is sending ripples of panic amongst different cross sections of people.
Food prices go through the roof
“Lobsters cost the earth this season and though people are coming in for seafood , many think twice before actually asking for lobsters. This despite the fact that we have the best deal in town on it”, executive chef James Murray, a master at his trade said. Lobster entrées at Freedom Café cost $21.99 this season. Lobsters and clam and a variety of sea food is summer fare in this state which has large number of tourists heading here every summer to swim, fish, relax on its beaches and relish some of the region’s traditional seafood offerings.
Not this time though. With fuel prices going through the roof-diesel almost doubling in the last year, fishermen are making fewer trips out to sea as profit margins on their catch get squeezed. Predictably then, those in the restaurant business , such as Murray, are feeling the pinch of depleted availability in the market.
Consumers are spending 6-14% more on everyday foods such as bread, milk , cheese, oil and meat prices. With the government predicting a further increase in food costs and prices of fuel showing no softening, environmentalists and conservationists are talking of consuming more locally produced foods. Retailers currently stock produce from places as far away as Mexico where they buy cheaper, put the produce on trucks and flights to their outlets across the United States. While environmentalists speak of the carbon footprint of such foods, surging fuel costs has resulted in the common man on the street also noticing the fact that he is, in fact, also paying for the transportation of the stuff from its original destination.
Merit in sourcing locally
Some retailers are already seeing the merit in sourcing locally. The world’s largest retailer, Bentonville, Arkansas -based Wal-Mart announced last week its decision to increase purchase of produce from local farms, to be sold within stores inside those states. It expects to source as much as $400 million worth of locally grown fruits and vegetables this year. The company will save millions of dollars in fuel cost alone by adopting this model.
Meanwhile, the popularity of Doiron’s idea on the website can be gauged from the fact that it has resulted in a blog on the issue-EatTheView.org. “My idea was posted much before recession and inflation became evident in the economy and my stand is that all of us have to adopt local produce and even grow a bit of our own food, not because it is cheaper but because we have to be more responsible. At a time when America is in the grips of an obesity epidemic and the world is struggling with climate change, it would send a message that fresh fruits and vegetables produced close to home are good and healthy things”.
“If the next President of the United States actually starts a kitchen garden at the White House, it will also send out a powerful message not just to Americans but to the world at large, about being more responsible about the food we produce and eat and the implications of our decisions on the world at large”.
Doiron’s idea has found takers including the governor of Maine and his wife who have a kitchen garden in the governors mansion. The campaign has also caught the attention of the national media and if the two candidates want to get some more votes in their kitty, they might just have bite this bait and take a stand on it. The campaign managers of neither camps have made contact with Doiron as yet but it is unlikely that this year’s highly-tech savvy campaign managers , have not noticed this phenomenon.