Last Word with Sam Kass

sam kass

Photo by Aliza Eliazarov

This Chicago native became the Obamas’ personal chef in 2007, a few months after Barack announced his bid for the presidency. Kass then joined the family at the White House, where he served as a senior policy adviser for nutrition and the executive director of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. Today, the 37-year old sustainability advocate aims to improve the way we eat by focusing on the private sector, through his strategy firm Trove and the venture fund Acre.

To change the food system, you must work within the food system. I walked into the White House as a young, idealistic revolutionary—and was forced to confront reality. It’s easy to be a critic, but hard when you’re responsible for effecting change. There are a lot of reasons we grow what we do, and a huge economy built around that. It’s going to take generations to transform a system that took generations to create.

The White House kitchen garden represents a shift in our national consciousness. When Michelle Obama and I set out to plant it, people thought we were nuts: You want to tear up the most iconic lawn in the world and put in tomatoes? Now it seems totally normal. The First Lady had an incredible impact on our expectations regarding food.

We may not have another administration that cares about these issues for decades. And that’s on us. If we get lucky in the next election, it won’t be because food is a political factor. We need to do a better job of connecting citizens’ personal concerns about food to how they cast their votes.

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So I’m betting on business to push progress. My mission involves steering capital toward start-up companies centered on health, transparency, and climate change. When I meet with these young entrepreneurs, it makes me hopeful about where we are headed.

Kass’ first cookbook, Eat a Little Better, is due out in March 2018 from Clarkson Potter.

Last Word with Sam Kass