We all become fascinated by food at this time of year, whether it’s turkey and stuffing, latkes or fruitcake.
The First Lady of the land is often a trendsetter in food, as well as in fashion.
Michelle Obama has taken the lead as the nation’s Nutritionist-in-Chief, planting a vegetable garden behind the White House, supporting a farmer’s market across the street, and ordering a vegetarian menu for her first state dinner (in honor of the Prime Minister of India, who does not eat meat).
Edith Wilson played food politics, too. In 1917, soon after the United States entered World War I, Edith, like Michelle, planted a garden on the White House lawn.
Edith also signed the “Hoover Pledge,” promising to limit food consumption. Herbert Hoover, who later became our country’s 31st president, was the wartime Food Administrator in Woodrow Wilson’s administration. He advocated food conservation, including meatless and “wheatless” days, so surplus could be sent overseas. The First Lady gave the newspapers her recipe for cooking inexpensive cuts of meat.
Even more picturesque – though controversial – was Edith’s decision to pasture a small flock of sheep on the White House lawn. When the sheep were sheared, the wool was distributed to the various states, two pounds to each one. The wool was sold at auction, raising well over $50,000 (the equivalent of almost three-quarters of a million dollars in 2007).
However, passersby – who previously had had access to the grounds – were prevented from entering because the sheep had to be fenced in. Furthermore, the lawn was littered with their droppings. When the Hardings succeeded the Wilsons in the spring of 1921, the gates were once again thrown open, the sheep were banished, and the American people were happy to see them go.