I went to the White House

I felt like such a dork walking around in a black apron in a black outfit, especially when it was a million degrees outside. But I guess I get points for originality!

I felt like such a dork walking around in a black apron in a black outfit, especially when it was a million degrees outside. But I guess I get points for originality!

Rumor had it that there was a chef event at the White House for food peeps that were working with kids.

I heard this from some culinary colleagues who scored a spot but didn't work with kids.

"Julie, you have to be there, you're actually working with the kids! This is your moment!"

It was May 2010. I remember sitting in the room I was subletting in the apartment on 108 and Central Park West. I had a mattress on the floor and a metal chair. That was my furniture. No, wait, I'd found a lamp in the closet so I had that too. I lived out of my suitcase for months.

I would sit on the end of my bed and type with my computer on my lap. 

I worked with my computer on my lap a lot. I even made horrible jokes, saying "I hope my computer isn't burning holes in my ovaries!"

Don't make jokes about holes being burned your ovaries.


It was such an intense summer. It was hotter than usual. After putting on weight the previous couple of years, I was dropping it like mad. I wasn't eating right. My intestines were NOT happy and were flaring up. I wasn't resting enough.

My work addiction was out of control - the worst it's ever been to this day. I'd teach all day and come home to work on my computer until 1am. Get up and do the whole thing over again.

I'll share more about my work addiction later because it's an important part of my mental health story. But today, it's the White House. 

At this point in the game, the pressure felt even more ON. When I dreamed up my kids cookbook idea years earlier and mentioned it to "powerful" people, it was generally not met with great enthusiasm.

What a difference a few years makes!

Now, people were taking my work seriously. And I felt panicky that I'd missed *my* moment that I'd worked so hard for.

I'd already committed to lobby with my Farm to School colleagues for the Reauthorization Act for school lunches a few days after the Chefs Move to School White House event. That means, I'd have to take the Bolt Bus down to DC, attend the event, turn right back around, work for a few days. Then take the bus back down. Taking an Amtrak train was a luxury I couldn't afford at this time.

It was so hot. 

It was so hot. 

When I arrived in DC for the WH event, I was very nervous. I'd heard that they were strict about ID and if anything was off, we wouldn't be let in. I'd also heard that lots of people were wearing their white chefs coats.

I almost never wore chefs "whites." Mostly because I got overheated. But also because I often worked with small kids. And lastly, I never went to culinary school or worked in any real professional capacity in a restaurant.

Without the "official" chef title, I always felt weird about wearing a chef's coat. Plus, they never fit my small frame well anyway.

So I made the bizarre decision to "be myself!" and wear a black apron which is what I'd wear for professional gigs. I didn't have time to get it embroidered or do anything fun with it. Almost all my aprons and chefs coats were disgusting. I worked with small children and food! Nearly all my clothes were stained for those years.

As many of you may have noted, I always have a go-to hat, especially for the summer. I'm almost never in the sun without a hat (I often remove it for photos). That year was this AWESOME fedora that I'd found in the men's section at Filene's Basement - in my defense, this was before EVERYONE was wearing fedoras - not even the hipsters in Brooklyn were into them quite yet. Older Latino men would compliment it as I walked by. 

I still have it. It's got a nasty brown stain on it. But I love it.

When I got in line with the dozens of culinary peeps and food writers to enter the White House grounds, I immediately regretted wearing the black apron and my strange hat. I looked like such a dork! I ran into a few colleagues. But mostly, it was older dudes in chef whites that I suspected had never worked with children. Most of the people that I know that work in food education are women. 

Being me, I made new friends by the time we got inside. We walked around the garden that Michelle Obama and Sam Kass had lovingly planted. Then we walked up to the White House.

Did I mention that it was nearly 100 degrees that day? I was WEARING BLACK. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME.

We sat and listened to Sam and Mrs. Obama give their speeches and then chefs started lining up to shake her hand.

Being small and fast has it's advantages (I'm AWESOME at snagging tables in busy restaurants/bars), I managed to get right behind the older dudes who got to shake Michelle Obama's hand.

I was THIS close to my hero. But I didn't want to be the asshole barging through (the older white men who felt entitled to be there).

I was THIS close to my hero. But I didn't want to be the asshole barging through (the older white men who felt entitled to be there).

I could have inserted myself but I didn't want to be "that" girl. Plus, I didn't want to move too suddenly with the Secret Service agents standing right behind her.

So, I took this photo instead. I was this close to shaking one of my greatest heroes hands.

And I didn't take it.

I had dreams for a long time that I would almost shake her hand and then she'd walk away.

What a strange tangent to take for this piece. I've got to honor the truth that comes out for these posts!

Overall, it was a pretty cool experience. I'm definitely glad I was able to go. 

I was so happy that we had such amazing leaders who actually *cared* about kids, and food, and health, and the same issues that I'd been passionately fighting for for so many years.

I do try to take responsibility for the fact that in my devotion to the Cause to bring better health to American families, I ruined my own health in the process.

Racing around in the heat that entire summer took it's toll. Along with so many of my other poor decisions.

No matter what happened in the long run, it's still a huge source of pride that I got to attend an event that was honoring the work I'd been doing for years.

Some people used it as an excuse to ride the wave which I get. It happens.

For me, it legitimized the work I'd been doing for years. It gave kids and cooking the street cred it deserved.

And it gives me one more thing to add to my growing bucket list: shake Michelle Obama's hand.

Maybe one day!

Much love,

PHOTO #26. This post is part of a series celebrating my life before I lost four organs to three cancers in 2014. It is an “online memorial” honoring the person I was, in the hopes that I can make peace with the disabled person I’ve become. Every day for 30 days until my birthday, I will challenge myself to write a post inspired by the photo I’m sharing. I will not plan the topic or write ahead of time. I will merely look at the photo and write whatever it inspires. Thanks for reading! #julesfor30 #happyrebirth