Monday, June 22, 2009

Obama Foodorama On the Today Show, And The First Lady's Food Policy End Run

I was in New York over the weekend to appear on a segment of the Today show, which aired yesterday morning.
Host Lester Holt questioned me and Deutsch CEO Linda Sawyer, the head of one of the biggest ad agencies in the world, on the Obama Effect: How much influence do the President and First Lady have over Americans' choices? (above: A screenshot of me, when the segment aired).

We chatted about the "halo" aspects of the President and First Lady, who together and separately have all kinds of economic and social impact, in addition to the obvious political impact.

Sawyer covered the Obama universe from shoes to cameras, and I dealt with food and agriculture, of course. It's not really breaking news anymore that the Obamas are swinging national taste, but Sawyer pointed out that from her perspective, companies who want to benefit from Brand Obama need to be incredibly discreet. That's true in food, too.

For instance, Blue Hill restaurateur Dan Barber still hasn't gone on the record about what he cooked for the Obamas during their New York Date Night dinner, which ensures that he's now a trusted entity. For sure he'll be guest cheffing at the White House soon, thanks to his Secret-Ops level of secrecy. I managed to include some comments about the White House Kitchen Garden being not only about health and nutrition, but about land stewardship, too, and noted that food policy is something that transcends all boundaries, and has global impact.

Not included in the conversation on the Today show, but the most interesting thing about the Obamas and food: How the First Lady is making an end run to change food policy, and being exceptionally successful at getting all kinds of food, nutrition and health programs going on the national level, without waiting years for initiatives to be formally enacted by Congress. (Above: A shot of me in the studio during the taping)

That's a major public policy story, and the analysis of that, at the moment, is occurring in real time on this blog. Today, Mrs. Obama is in San Francisco kicking off the United We Serve summer program, which aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands of community-minded individuals and groups to work in food banks and plant community gardens, among other initiatives. This will rapidly do far more to redress long-standing issues of food insecurity, food justice, and health problems than anything our legislators are doing, since they're constrained by the snail's pace of Capitol Hill. It's a path-breaking moment in the history of food in America.

The Today show staff was really nice, and they run the place like a well-oiled machine, with guests being slotted rapidly in and out of the studios to tape segments. In the make up room, I met Barbara Corcoran, the real estate maven who's a regular contributor on Today. She was cracking jokes and asking for brighter lipstick. When she found out what I was at Today to talk about, she said that she loves the White House Kitchen Garden, and made a rapid economic analysis for her own sector of the economy. (Above: Green Room food)

"A garden increases the value of a home when it's being sold," Ms. Corcoran said, and winked.

Everyone, it seems, can personalize the Obama Effect.

*Thanks to reader Kevin Berns, who sent in the TV screenshot of Ob Fo. Kicks and giggles: Lots of readers who saw the segment pointed out that I was channeling the First Lady with the haircut, pearls and cardigan, and noted that the Obama Effect is going on right here, too.