Matt Roth / The New York Times file

Sam Kass, 29, the assistant White House chef, helps out at The White House Healthy Kids Fair on the South Lawn in 2009.

White House chef joins Johnson, Waters for farm-to-fork forum

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014 - 10:33 pm
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014 - 10:51 pm

Sacramento’s stature as the farm-to-fork capital continues to grow. Even the White House takes notice.

A public forum fortified that connection Wednesday by featuring chef Sam Kass, the White House senior policy adviser for nutrition and executive director of Let’s Move, a national initiative targeting childhood obesity by stressing healthful eating. At the CalPERS auditorium downtown, Kass teamed with slow-food pioneer Alice Waters and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to note how far healthy and sustainable eating has come.

In an event billed as “Sacramento Sustenance: A Farm-to-Fork Forum,” they were joined by several local food-access leaders and policymakers for some lively discussion about their favorite subject: Food.

“What impressed me is how much the entire community is involved,” Kass said. “Better food is what’s happening here.”

Not that long ago, some healthy-eating initiatives sounded pretty far-fetched, Kass said – just like growing vegetables on the White House’s South Lawn or getting inner-city kids to eat turnips. But Kass has seen both happen as America embraces its inner veggie lover.

“We’ve seen the number of families who plant their own vegetable gardens go up 17 percent since the White House planted its garden,” he said. “About one out of three households will plant a vegetable garden this year. That’s pretty awesome.”

In the audience were more than 200 people, including Yolo County farmers and local chefs such as Patrick Mulvaney. Johnson credited Mulvaney for planting the seed that brought Kass and Waters to Sacramento. The chef bet the mayor that Johnson couldn’t make it happen. Together on stage, they made Johnson “one cool dude in the food world,” he quipped.

Up against sugary drinks and salty snacks, healthy food advocates need to step up marketing and find new ways to deliver their pro-produce message, Kass said.

“You’ve got to get (healthy food) to market, but how do you convince people to eat it?” Kass asked. “Kids see 5,500 ads a year for junk food but only a hundred for healthy items. ... Handing out pamphlets (promoting that) broccoli has Vitamin B, then you expect kids to eat it? That (approach) doesn’t cut it.”

Schools can do more to promote that healthy-eating message, said Waters, who started her own Edible Schoolyard program nearly 20 years ago.

“You’ve got to have more (healthy food) in public schools when kids are young,” Waters said. “That’s when you create a relationship with food. ... If you buy from local, sustainable farms, they see food goes directly from farm to school.”

After the forum, Kass and Waters joined students from the Edible Sac High program at Sacramento High School for a home-grown dinner.

“What’s happening here is an inspiration,” Kass said. “The model built here is something the rest of the country could learn a lot from. But we still have a long ways to go.”

As for feeding the first family, Kass wouldn’t reveal the Obamas’ favorites “That’s top secret,” he joked, but quickly added that they’re not picky eaters.

“They like it all,” Kass said. “Balanced, healthy, simple meals; the most important thing is that it’s a meal together. ... But they do like spaghetti and meatballs.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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