Sam Kass in 2009
Samuel David Kass
1980 (age 39–40)
|Education||University of Chicago Laboratory Schools|
Kansas City Kansas Community College
|Alma mater||AB University of Chicago|
|Occupation||Chef, Nutrition Policy Consultant|
|Known for||White House Chef|
White House Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy
Executive Director, Let's Move!
|Spouse(s)||Alex Wagner (m. 2014)|
|Parent(s)||Valentine Hertz Kass|
|Family||Helen Valentine (great-grandmother)|
Samuel David Kass (born 1980) worked at the White House from January 20, 2009 to December 19, 2014, and during this period served as President Barack Obama's Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, as Executive Director for First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, and as an Assistant Chef. The White House announced his departure on December 8, 2014. On July 29, 2015, NBC News announced the appointment of Kass as a senior food analyst, charged with covering topics such as healthful eating, food trends and policy on all platforms of NBC News.
Early life and education
Kass grew up in a Jewish family in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. His father, Robert, was a teacher at the private, co-ed University of Chicago Laboratory Schools ("Lab Schools") who taught President Obama's daughter Malia Obama in the 5th grade; Kass's mother, Valentine (née Hertz), is a science educator at the National Science Foundation and previously served as the director of Omnimax productions at the Museum of Science and Industry. His maternal great-grandmother, Helen Valentine, founded Seventeen magazine.
Kass attended high school at the Lab Schools, where he was on the varsity baseball team, and graduated in 1998. He played baseball as a center fielder on a scholarship at Kansas City Kansas Community College and later transferred to Triton College. He graduated with an AB in history in 2004 from the University of Chicago, where he also played NCAA Division III baseball as a right fielder with a career .366 batting average, ranking among the best in program history.
During his junior year of college, Kass worked at the restaurant 312 Chicago under chef Dean Zanella. In 2003, Kass finished his senior year of college abroad, training under chef Christian Domschitz in Vienna, Austria. He continued his training while traveling around the world, including to New Zealand, Italy, and Mexico, before returning to Chicago in 2006 to work at the restaurant Avec under Executive Chef Paul Kahan.
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In 2007, Kass opened his own personal chef company in Chicago, Inevitable Table, which focused on healthful and nutritious food. He then became the personal chef to the Obamas while Barack Obama was the Junior Senator from Illinois.
In January 2009, Kass went to work at the White House as First Lady Michelle Obama's Food Initiative Coordinator, and joined the kitchen staff as an Assistant Chef under Executive Chef Cris Comerford. In 2010, Kass was promoted to Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives. In 2013, Kass was named Let's Move! Executive Director and promoted to Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy.
In these roles, Kass assisted Michelle Obama in creating the first major vegetable garden at the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt's victory garden. The garden does not use herbicides, pesticides, or chemical fertilizer.
Kass also assisted the First Lady in her efforts to promote healthy eating and the prevention of childhood obesity. He was the chief architect of the Let's Move! campaign, which utilized private-sector partnerships to pursue the goal of reducing childhood obesity to 5% by 2030. He was named #11 on Fast Company magazine's 2011 list of 100 Most Creative People for his work with Let's Move!, in particular for a five-year partnership pledge from grocery giant Walmart, which announced a commitment to build up to 300 stores in areas defined as "food deserts", lower the price of its fruits and vegetables, and reduce the sugar, salt, and fat in its private-label products on its shelves.
Kass is a promoter of sustainable farming and locally grown and organic foods and is a critic of modern agricultural producers and fertilizer and pesticide companies. He has also railed against the national lunch program as "disproportionately high in fat, preservatives and high fructose corn syrup." Kass has been criticized for his unwillingness to acknowledge the benefits of pesticides and chemical fertilizers as well as the high cost of organic farming relative to corporate farming.
In 2012, Kass was named to the inaugural class of chefs in the American Chef Corps, a project he created with the US Department of State in conjunction with the James Beard Foundation to promote global diplomacy through culinary initiatives. Kass made his first solo trip abroad for the program in July 2014, spending a week in the Republic of Korea. During his visit sponsored by the US Embassy and Brand USA, Kass promoted Let's Move!, met with culinary students, celebrated Independence Day at the US Embassy's party, learned to cook the traditional dish Bulgogi at the request of President Obama, and promoted culinary tourism to the US.
In 2014, Kass requested to speak at the School Nutrition Association's convention in Boston. However, his request was denied due to Kass's advisory position at the White House and the strains between the association and the first lady.
On December 8, 2014, the White House announced Kass's departure, issuing a statement in which Barack and Michelle Obama saluted his "tenure of dedicated service." Barack Obama stated:
From constructing our Kitchen Garden to brewing our own Honey Brown Ale, Sam has left an indelible mark on the White House. And with the work he has done to inspire families and children across this country to lead healthier lives, Sam has made a real difference for our next generation. Over the years, Sam has grown from a close friend to a critical member of my team, and I am grateful for his outstanding work and look forward to seeing all that he will continue to achieve in the years ahead.
Michelle Obama said:
Sam has been an integral part of Let's Move! from its very beginning -- from discussions about children's health around my kitchen table in Chicago, to setting the strategic vision of a national campaign in the White House, to spearheading efforts with the private sector across the country. Sam leaves an extraordinary legacy of progress, including healthier food options in grocery store aisles, more nutritious school lunches, and new efforts that have improved how healthy food is marketed to our kids. I wish Sam success in all his future endeavors, and I know he will continue to be a leader in the vitally important work to build a healthier country.
His last official day at the White House was Friday, December 19, 2014.
As of May 2015, Kass is a partner in Sprig, a meal-delivery service based in the San Francisco Bay Area, founded in 2013. He joined the project as an investor when Sprig announced a $45 million funding round.
In July 2015, Kass was named a Director's Fellow at MIT Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. On July 29, 2015, Kass was appointed Senior Food Analyst at NBC News.
In November 2015, Kass delivered a TED Talk in Manhattan, New York, entitled "Want kids to learn well? Feed them well". TED Talks Live writes that, in this talk, Kass "discusses the role schools can play in nourishing students' bodies in addition to their minds". As of September 17, 2018, the video of the talk has had more than 1.5 million views.
Kass is currently represented by Washington Speakers Bureau for public engagements. The Bureau states that Kass "offers fresh and informative insights as he explores the latest developments in health, wellness, and the future of consumption", and that he "is working on two books about the future and impact of food, one of which will be in the form of a cookbook, scheduled for release in 2017."
In October 2015, the James Beard Foundation honored Kass with its 2015 Leadership Award "for his work toward nationwide food-policy initiatives that focus on sustainable and nutritious ingredients, and efforts to raise awareness of childhood obesity, hunger, and nutrition issues."
In January 2016, Kass launched a food technology company, TROVE, an investment, strategy, and communications consultancy created to "work with corporations both big and small who are serious about transforming our health, climate and planet through food." In February 2016, Woman's Day magazine named Kass one of its Red Dress Awards honorees, an annual award for outstanding achievement in encouraging health and fitness.
In April 2016, California-based food technology company Innit announced Kass had joined the team as its Chief Consumer Experience Officer.
In May 2016, Kass became a partner in the newly launched venture capital fund Acre Venture Partners, a $125 million fund designed to inspire "collaborative disruption" with projects that focus on "transparency, health, and sustainability" in the global "food system". Campbell Soup is the sole limited partner in the fund, which is independent of the packaged-food company.
In March 2017, the World Economic Forum (WEF) named Kass to its 2017 Class of Young Global Leaders, intended to recognise people under the age of 40 who the WEF considers to be "pushing boundaries and rethinking the world around them."
The WEF states that these people are "invited to join a community and a five-year leadership journey that we believe will help them break down silos, bridge cultures and use their collective skills to get things done for positive impact across private, public and civil society organizations." Kass is one of twenty-four Young Global Leaders from North America for 2017.
After stepping down from his post at the White House, Kass moved to Brooklyn, New York. On August 30, 2014, Kass and Wagner were married in a ceremony at the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York. The President, First Lady, and the First Daughters attended the wedding. In 2017, Wagner gave birth to their son, Cy.
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"After Kass said the White House garden would not use pesticides, the Mid America CropLife Association, an agricultural chemical trade group, urged Michelle Obama to acknowledge the benefits of conventional agriculture to families who lack the time or means to tend backyard gardens ... Jeffrey Stier of the American Council on Science and Health. ... said the Obama message was unrealistic for ordinary families who can't afford organic or locally grown food."
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