Sunday, January 25, 2009

Cristeta Comerford Who? Obama Site Gives Clue to Desire for Privacy About Food

Aggressive foodies looking to politicize and publicize healthy food choices by using the President and First Lady as an example have so far been disappointed. To date, FLOTUS and POTUS have been immune to all demands to make public pronouncements about food, though they have eaten in public. And the President has been somewhat annoying to those looking for a perfect First Eater; the Candy Police have squirmed over his media-chronicled visits to "unhealthy" food places such as a Ben's Chili Bowl, to a Chicago deli, to a Hawaiian deli, to a golf course snack bar...and he's also, ahem, dined with Republicans (but y'know, that's only dangerous about half the time). Yet perhaps The Obamas have already issued their official statement on how public they're willing to be about food--but no one has noticed. (Pic is the President at Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington)

The new Obama official White House website, which premiered on Inauguration Day, is almost completely devoid of information about food, chefs, kitchen practices, and any of the gardens in the White House. There's not even a mention of current White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford (pictured).

When you enter "Cristeta Comerford" into the search engine box on the new site, you get:

Did you mean? crises rutherford

Search was unable to find any results for cristeta comerford, you may have typed your word incorrectly, have entered an empty phrase or are being too specific.

If you enter "White House Kitchen" into the new search engine, you get directed to the White House 101 general page, which has a brief recap of White House history. "Executive Chef" gets the same search result. If you enter "Navy Mess," the search term for the cafeteria-esque food service that's available every day at the White House, you're directed to a page for the White House Military Office, and there's no information about food. (Most recently, the President dined at the Navy Mess when he was still President-elect, with the four other living US presidents, at the All The US Presidents In The Universe lunch.)

This sentence is one of the few that exists for Food, Cooking, and White House Chef on the new site: With five full-time chefs, the White House kitchen is able to serve dinner to as many as 140 guests and hors oeuvres to more than a thousand.

And there's a small entry about the State Dining Room, as part of White House 101:

When Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, he turned the State Dining Room into his office and used the adjacent Red Room to receive guests and meet visitors. Several years later, President Andrew Jackson improved both the ambiance and odor of the room when he moved the White House stables out from under its windows. President Jackson also officially named the space the State Dining Room. In the 1902 renovations, the State Dining Room underwent the most dramatic transformation of any room on the State Floor of the White House. Previously, the room had only been able to hold 40 guests for dinner. By removing a staircase, the architects significantly expanded the State Dining Room to its current holding capacity of 140 people.

Entering "White House garden" or "gardens" in the search box takes you to links for various First Ladies. "Eleanor Roosevelt Victory Garden" entered into the search engine takes you to this Roosevelt biography page, which has no mention of her victory garden at the White House (go here to Pamela Price's Knol on victory gardens in the US, for an excellent recap of the subject).

Hmm. At the moment, it's pretty telling, in terms of playing it close to the vest. Having no official bio for Cristeta Comerford, and no mention of kitchens and foodservice or any kind of food garden at the White House seems like a statement from the Obamas. The Obamas seem to want all things food kept quiet and private...for now. But perhaps that's because the official website, like other things in the White House tekworld, is still being worked out.

*Bush White House Site Was Very Different

The current Obama site is the opposite of the Bush admin's website, which had not only pages and pages devoted to their own Chefs, but lots of good historical information about chefs in other administrations, and pages that were devoted to historic meals and holiday food service, and pages about gardens. For instance, despite leaving the White House in 2005, former White House Executive Chef Walter Scheib was still on the official Bush website until midnight on Jan. 19, 2009, when the site switched over to be Obama's. The Bush webber now exists as a frozen in time site, a historical record that's a culturally important peek into the folk foodways of the White House during the Bush years (Pictured: Cris Comerford with former First Lady Laura Bush)