American Elephants

And Now They’re Going to Regulate Your Kitchen! by The Elephant's Child

Sam Kass, who was the Obama’s chef in Chicago, came to the White House with the Obamas.  He was known as Mrs. Obama’s Food Initiative Coordinator, but about a month ago, his title was changed to Senior Policy Adviser for Healthy Food Initiatives.  The new title more accurately reflects Kass’ broad range of duties, as internal and external expert on all things health, kids, and food.  Or in the vernacular — he is the “Food Czar.”

So Sam Kass went from being a 20-something Chicago gourmet cook, privately paid to cook for the Obamas, to a big-time White House adviser.  Michelle Obama’s healthy nutrition program is supposed to eliminate childhood obesity within a generation, especially in the country’s inner cities.  Mrs. Obama claims that childhood obesity is a threat to national security, and a crisis that requires the administration to spend $400 million a year to bring “healthy foods” to low-income neighborhoods and $10 billion to make revisions to the old federal program that feeds tens of millions of poor children at school. Mrs Obama said when launching  last month’s “Chefs Move to Schools” initiative — a program to get professional chefs to volunteer in America’s schools:

I think it’s just pretty powerful to see what started out as a few conversations in our kitchen on the South Side of Chicago turn into a major initiative that hopefully will change the way we think as a country, not just about the health of our kids but about our health as a nation,”

I think the ambitions may once again exceed what is possible or probable.  Mrs. Obama is enamored of organic produce, local, regional and “sustainable” food.  I assume that is not “sustainable” in the sense of the cans of food in the pantry, but in some larger, greener sense.  “Sustainable” is very big in the green left, but I haven’t figured out yet just what it means, but is sure is a popular word.

Mr. Kass gave the keynote speech at the Food Marketing Institute’s trade show in Las Vegas, urging supermarket important people to take a leadership role in “Let’s Move.”  He told the grocery retailers that it’s time to seize the opportunity to be leaders in creating a generation of healthier kids by being “architects of choice” on the micro and macro level.  He gave, according the to blog “Obama Foodorama” “a mini dissertation on how to change the design of markets which ranged from where to position healthy foods, to changing food packaging labels is crucial for parents’ decision making, to why it’s important to build more supermarkets in places that don’t have them.”

There was also a conference with governors to urge them to establish food initiatives in their states and cities. Baltimore has a food czar named Holly Freishtat, and the City of Boston has recently joined in, creating a $75,000 a year position of “Food Policy Director” with an ambitious agenda.

I may not grasp the true meaning of “sustainable” but I do know a bit about “organic” food.  “Organic” is a marketing ploy designed to sell smaller fruits and vegetables grown on larger acreages at higher prices.  Organic produce has been  tested over and over, and there is no benefit in nutrition or freshness. It usually costs about 30% more.  Organic designates a method of growing which involves using only ‘natural’ fertilizers (manure) and only ‘natural’ pesticides (like pyrethrums–some of the most poisonous pesticides).  No better for you.  You can look up the process that farmers must follow to get the “organic” label, but it remains only a marketing ploy.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall at that convention of supermarket CEOs being lectured by the Obama’s 20-something cook.  But I’m not a foodie, I’m just an ordinary good cook.

The “A Whale”, the Much-Hyped Huge Oil Skimmer, Was a Flop! by The Elephant's Child

The  1,150-foot oil tanker “A Whale,” was specially modified just after the  BP Deepwater Horizon disaster at its Taiwanese owners’ expense to be a “super skimmer,” without consultation with officials involved in the cleanup.

The company claimed that the vessel could process more than 20 million gallons of oily water a day.  The test last week was the second one for the ship.  The first test didn’t work well, but seas were very rough and the results were inconclusive.  The second test, on calmer waters, proved the vessel no more effective.  The A Whale has been banned.  The Coast Guard said that “the amount of oil recovered was negligible, and limited oil beyond a sheen was found in the cargo tanks.”

The A Whale was modified to cope with a spill that was a vast puddle of oil on top of the water, but the BP spill was not a monolithic spill.  Admiral Allen, the incident commander, said the BP spill became thousands of small spills as the oil has dispersed over a broad area.  In many places the oil had weathered into thin ribbons stretching for a mile or more.

Henry Fountain, the New York Times writer says:

The episode also offers a lesson on the challenges of trying to be better prepared for the next oil disaster. You can stockpile equipment and material, but if it is designed for certain conditions and the spill proves to be completely different, it may be of no use at all.

If lessons are to be learned from this spill, it is important that they will be the right ones. One of the most important would seem to be that quick action and organization are imperative.  Booms that were supposed to be available weren’t. There was no effort to bring in booms from other parts of the country.  Skimmers were not available. Offers of help from countries very experienced in dealing with oil spills was turned down.  Dozens of officials and agencies descended on the area with no one in charge.  There was no leadership.  After seventy days,  Louisiana officials were still begging for booms and skimmers, and the incident command determined that the need could be met by accepting offers from some other countries.

The disaster itself, whether due to human error, equipment failure or intrinsic problems of drilling so deep needs to be put into the ledger with the 50,000 other wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico with no problems whatsoever.  There have been oil spills all over the world: most of the worst ones have been tanker accidents.  People respond emotionally to oiled wildlife, not so much to people with destroyed livelihoods.  And somewhere in the equation should be a note that Mother Nature does a very good job of restoration over time.

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