At who-knows-what cost to the taxpayer Michelle Obama shut down a chunk of DC yesterday to promote "healthy eating" and locally grown food. Dana Milbank nails the palpable elitism of it all.
The food is priced for royalty, but don't worry; Mrs. Obama pointed out that the little people "who pay with food stamps would get double the coupon value at the market." That means a double discount on your $20/pound tender baby arugula, $29/pound cheese, and $5/dozen free-range eggs. Mr. Milbank does this charade justice:
Let's say you're preparing dinner and you realize with dismay that you don't have any certified organic Tuscan kale. What to do?I don't know if she wore one of her pairs of $600 sneakers to the market but it would have been the proper venue this time.
Here's how Michelle Obama handled this very predicament Thursday afternoon:
The Secret Service and the D.C. police brought in three dozen vehicles and shut down H Street, Vermont Avenue, two lanes of I Street and an entrance to the McPherson Square Metro station. They swept the area, in front of the Department of Veterans Affairs, with bomb-sniffing dogs and installed magnetometers in the middle of the street, put up barricades to keep pedestrians out, and took positions with binoculars atop trucks. Though the produce stand was only a block or so from the White House, the first lady hopped into her armored limousine and pulled into the market amid the wail of sirens.
Then, and only then, could Obama purchase her leafy greens. "Now it's time to buy some food," she told several hundred people who came to watch. "Let's shop!"
Cowbells were rung. Somebody put a lei of marigolds around Obama's neck. The first lady picked up a straw basket and headed for the "Farm at Sunnyside" tent, where she loaded up with organic Asian pears, cherry tomatoes, multicolored potatoes, free-range eggs and, yes, two bunches of Tuscan kale. She left the produce with an aide, who paid the cashier as Obama made her way back to the limousine.
There's nothing like the simple pleasures of a farm stand to return us to our agrarian roots.
The first lady had encouraged Freshfarm Markets, the group that runs popular farmers markets in Dupont Circle and elsewhere, to set up near the White House, and she helped get the approvals to shut down Vermont Avenue during rush hour on Thursdays. But the result was quite the opposite of a quaint farmers market. Considering all the logistics, each tomato she purchased had a carbon footprint of several tons.Mrs. Obama is consistently tone-deaf when it comes to relating to clingers who wouldn't dream of spending $20/pound on produce and would prefer to get home to their families at the end of the work day without a weekly detour around an elite "farmstand."
The promotion of organic and locally grown food, though an admirable cause, is a risky one for the Obamas, because there's a fine line between promoting healthful eating and sounding like a snob.
The first lady said the market would particularly appeal to federal employees in nearby buildings to "pick up some good stuff for dinner." Yet even they might think twice about spending $3 for a pint of potatoes when potatoes are on sale for 40 cents a pound at Giant. They could get nearly five dozen eggs at Giant for the $5 Obama spent for her dozen.Or they might like to take the money and flush it down the toilet, which is what many of them do for a living. Oh, but this would be their own money they'd be spending on organic dandelion greens ($12/pound). That might give them pause. Times are that tough.
She spoke of the fuel fed to the world's most powerful man: "I've learned that when my family eats fresh food, healthy food, that it really affects how we feel, how we get through the day . . . whether there's a Cabinet meeting or whether we're just walking the dog."I often take issue with Dana Milbank but he's proving to possess something most of the mainstream media is lacking: eyes with which to see. He recognized the absurdity of this exercise and gave it the treatment it deserved.
And she spoke of her own culinary efforts: "There are times when putting together a healthy meal is harder than you might imagine."
Particularly when it involves a soundstage, an interpreter for the deaf, three TV satellite trucks and the closing of part of downtown Washington.
And by the way, "putting together a healthy meal" doesn't require expensive, exotic produce or $29 bison steaks. It's not as hard as Mrs. Obama "imagines." But she can only imagine, because she's never done it on a regular basis. In order to soften her image she's been branded the authority on "healthy eating," a cause with a maternal non-threatening vibe, in spite of the fact that she was never, as far as we know, a mom who routinely did the cooking for her family. But the Obama image need not be based on reality.
*Update: The Washington Examiner covered the disruption caused by Mrs. Obama's pet cause:
Through the day, traffic near McPherson Square was in turmoil and the cacophony of horns and squeaking brakes could be heard. A woman in a wheelchair had to pick her way through a maze of iron gates to get to work at the Department of Veterans Affairs. "It's good to have a choice," said hot dog vendor T.K. Woldemak, who had to move his stand around the block to make way for Thursday's vendors. "But is it worthwhile to block the whole road?"Oh well, let them eat kale.
D.C. Department of Transportation officials initially balked at granting a permit for the market but relented quickly [after Mrs. Obama became involved] and on Thursday morning, a fleet of bright orange trucks pulled up in front of the Veterans Administration building, police were dispatched and gates went up. DDOT didn't bother to inform the public of the shutdown until 10 a.m.
Passengers on Metro's L2 found out on their way to work that their bus would have to take a detour around McPherson Square to accommodate Thursday's shutdown. "The farmers market has been causing some angst," Metro spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein told WTOP radio. The VA seemed to have been caught off guard. With the Vermont Street entrance closed, some 50 regularly scheduled visitors and contractors were turned away because they didn't have the appropriate government pass to enter on the I Street side, a security guard said.
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