Thursday, February 19, 2009

Michelle Obama Visits The USDA, Gives Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack a Hauntingly Symbolic Gift

Breaking news: First Lady Michelle Obama is visiting the USDA right now, as part of her ongoing "thank you" tour of government agencies. The First Lady told the thrilled crowd that "We're so lucky to have Secretary Vilsack...you all are blessed."

But as the Mother in Chief, would Michelle feel quite so blessed if she knew Tom Vilsack's real views on food safety? While speaking to a group of growers at the US Rice Federation last week, Vilsack illustrated perfectly that he has absolutely no interest in protecting any Americans from death by contaminated food, but rather that he's solely interested in profit:

“How would you like to be in the peanut business today?” Vilsack said. “At the end of the day, (food safety) is about preserving the income opportunities for farmers and ranchers...We’ve got to make sure the food supply is safe. That’s how you preserve markets.”

Obama Foodorama would like to point out that Michelle's mom, the 71-year-old Marian Robinson (pictured), and her children, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, are the two populations most vulnerable to dying from food borne disease. So yep, preserving markets and income opportunities is exactly why the food supply should be safe, not because at least 5,000 Americans, primarily the elderly and children, die annually from foodborne disease. And 76 million more Americans, of every age and race, become ill.

At the USDA press conference, Michelle presented Vilsack with a seedling for his "People's Garden," which was taken from a magnolia tree planted at the White House by President Andrew Jackson in honor of his wife Rachel, who died a week before he moved in (Jackson magnolia, in pic). How unwittingly symbolic that Michelle gave Vilsack a death memento, given that foodborne deaths are going to keep on happening as long as ag policy is focused exclusively on profit. And we're not just talking about disease outbreaks, we're also talking about all the deadly outcomes caused by the ongoing American love affair with environmentally devastating Big Agribusiness operations...pesticides, antibiotic residues, watershed destruction, air pollution, global warming.

Another bit of symbolism? The Andrew Jackson Magnolia Tree used to be on the US $20 bill (in pic). Instead of giving Vilsack a seedling for his new "People's Garden," Michelle should've kicked his ass up and down the corridors of the USDA. And BTW? We're renaming Visack's garden "The Profit Garden," because it's looking like that's what he's all about.

*Marian Robinson pic from Reuters; pic at top of post from Obama Foodorama Kitchen, continuing the Obama-era tradition of taking pictures of the First Peeps on other digi screens