Friday, April 13, 2012

Sam Kass: Learning To Cook Is The Best Way To Beat Rising Food Prices

The Senior Policy Advisor talks "down-home cooking" at the White House, and says organic food isn't crucial for healthy eating...
The US Department of Agriculture is projecting that grocery store prices will rise 2.5 to 3.5% in 2012, and they could go even higher if there is a major natural disaster or a shock to the global market...or if gas prices continue to climb.  Acutely aware of these issues, the White House has some advice for Americans trying to feed their families healthy food on tight budgets:  Cook at home, said Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass.  (Above, in the Kitchen Garden)

"Food prices take a serious toll on family budgets," Kass said. "Cooking is one of our best strategies. And learning how to cook simple dishes at an affordable cost is something that can be a really effective tool to eating healthy at an affordable rate."

That's why the Let's Move! campaign has had a focus on teaching Americans to cook at home, Kass told Newsmax in a video interview filmed in First Lady Michelle Obama's White House Kitchen Garden following the annual Easter Egg Roll.

"We're also working on getting out simple and affordable recipes to families so they can have the knowledge to really put together some dishes they can afford," Kass said. 

In the ongoing effort to make cooking fun and inspire Americans to get familiar with their stoves, eight celebrity chefs gave cooking demonstrations during the Easter Egg Roll in a special outdoor Kids' Kitchen. Mrs. Obama herself cooked shrimp and vegetable tacos with chef Marcus Samuelsson. When an audience member called out to Mrs. Obama that vegetables can be expensive, she suggested selecting "seasonal" produce to keep food costs down, and also noted that frozen vegetables are a good option, too.  Check the sidebar of this blog for all recipes released to date by the White House. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Samuelsson in the Kids Kitchen)

Organic vs. non-organic...
Though the White House Kitchen Garden is not certified organic, in the program for the Easter Egg Roll it is described as an "organic garden." And kids were being offered organic apples and oranges at a "Farmers Market" booth sponsored by Whole Foods that was beside the Kitchen Garden during the event. Still, when asked by Newsmax which is "better" for Americans, organic or non-organic food, Kass was diplomatic.

"I don't think it's a question of better," Kass said. "I think all families have to have access to affordable food."

As for the meals he cooks for the First Family: These are based around the bounty of the Kitchen Garden, Kass said, which is one of his "greatest joys." He described the meals he cooks as "really simple, nothing fancy."

"Just down-home cooking," Kass said. "Whole grains, a little chicken, a little meat, things out of the garden."

He declined to name a favorite First Family dish, joking that that is "top secret" information he "cannot disclose."

Kass also gave a shout-out to Mrs. Obama's forthcoming book about the garden, American Grown, due to be released at the end of May. The book includes recipes as it gives a history of Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden and school and community gardens across the US.

In 2010, the White House experimented with the Let's Cook video series, which featured Kass giving family cooking lessons, joined by guest chefs. Two were produced: Below is the second, which features Kass and chef José Andrés. They cook six easy, affordable and healthy family dinners for four all built around chicken and roasted vegetables, with an average price of about $13. The cooking series was discontinued after the Andrés video, and the recipes were removed from the Let's Move! website.

*Videos of all the Easter Egg Roll cooking demos are here.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama