Day Three: Monday May 20. On Monday we got dressed in our second most-professional attire and took the metro to the Smithsonian stop, where we talked about the USDA and the day for a bit, before heading over to the USDA building to get our snazzy visitor badges! There we met first with Max Finberg, USDA StrikeForce Coordinator and Director of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who spoke to us about what the USDA does, the seven areas in which the USDA works (rural development, foreign agriculture service, food safety, etc), and the importance of collaborations and taking full advantage of existing organizations. Next we went to lunch at the USDA cafeteria (amazing) where we ate with Undersecretary Kevin Concannon, whose only bosses are President Obama and Secretary Vilsack, before meeting with him back in his offices. He filled us in on some recent statistics about the various federal meal programs, and we were able to ask him some questions. Lastly we met with Dr. Robert Post, Associate Executive Director of USDA's CNPP. He spoke to us about the USDA's new MyPlate initiative, which has been introduced to replace the food pyramid, serving as a simple visual cue to remind us what our plates should look like (see image below). One quote I wrote down from him is that "the food industry is not the problem, but they have to be a part of the solution," and he also said that it is possible to eat healthy on a budget, which I don't think is necessarily true, or is at least much more complicated than a simple budgeting issue.
We then walked across the mall to the Museum of American History Smithsonian, to see their Food exhibit, which was pretty cool, even seeing how food marketing has changed over the years, all the many forms of coffee cup lids, and the evolution of the shopping cart. After that we had free time until we met up at Ben's Chili Bowl for dinner (I went with some folks to the Museum of African Art- amazing!). Ben's is a famous little hole in the wall spot (Obama famously visited) which I had somehow not been to in my two years in DC. Not the place to go if you're looking for healthy eating, but definitely the place to go if you're looking for a place with character, history, and chili dogs. After that we took the metro to Dupont Circle (kick off of Embassy Row; I once went to an event at the Indonesian embassy), wandered around, and got ice cream!