The White House Is Losing Its Strongest Voice for Changing the Food System
Cooking for the first family doesn’t come with the same glitz and glamour as the position of White House executive chef. You don’t cook the multicourse state dinners, serving banquet halls full of celebrities and dignitaries. Rather, you cook weeknight meals for a family of four.
But Sam Kass, who has cooked for the Obamas since the president was a senator and has had the official title of “assistant chef in charge of family meals” since 2008, turned that job into so much more. He was not only preparing dinner but also planting and maintaining the White House kitchen garden, serving as the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, and taking on the new role of White House senior policy advisor on nutrition. But after six years at the White House, Kass is leaving his multiple posts.
A press release from the White House announcing the departure says that Kass will continue to work on the Let’s Move! campaign, but the statement only says that his successor “will be named in the new year.” It’s unclear if Kass the chef will be replaced or if there will be an attempt to replace Kass with someone similarly equipped to handle both cooking and policy.
Kass, who was married at chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns—the ur-farm-to-table restaurant—in September, bridges a difficult divide, appealing to those who care about grass-fed beef and those who care about school-lunch nutrition and eating healthy on a SNAP budget.
In a recent appearance at a New York Times conference called “Food for Tomorrow," also held at Blue Hill, Kass gave a speech that covered such topics as cooking for the Obamas out of the White House garden, junk-food marketing, the FDA’s new limits on antibiotics use in livestock, and the farm bill.
Sounding very much like the man he’s served countless dinners to over the years, Kass said that to make progress in efforts to “change the food system,“ people need to "move from these lofty theories that set unrealistic expectations of what change should look like to pragmatic, meaningful steps that reflect the political reality that we have to operate in.”
If he’s replaced with someone whose interests don’t extend beyond the kitchen, it will be a loss for the effort he has played such an important role in.