My Lunch with President Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter, 1993

I am glued to the Democratic Convention, absorbing one brilliant speech after another and relishing every word of commentary too.

I was very happy to listen to President Jimmy Carter, and to see him looking so well at age 88.

Long ago, I listened to him speak on the radio. I was so mesmerized, I parked my car to hear every word. I’ve continued to admire him ever since.

Much later I wrote a Letter to the Editor of The New York Times. (How bold of me!) I expressed my opinion that genetic engineering was our best hope for the future of agriculture.

To my surprise and delight, I received an invitation to join then former President Carter for lunch in Plains, Georgia.

As you probably know, he has supported research at Emory University to isolate the protein that causes peanut allergy. He (and Julia Child) believed in science and technology to solve some of our problems as we struggle to feed a hungry world on diminishing expanses of fertile farmland.

I just want to describe the lunch itself though. We met in a small store-front cafeteria.The buffet table consisted of a row of six or seven industrial metal pans in which the tepid food was immersed in dirty water beneath floating globules of grease. The iceberg salad was dressed with something that tasted of strawberry shampoo.

We spoke about the possibility of establishing a peanut festival in Plains along the lines of the garlic festival in Gilroy, CA.  The Prez ate with gusto. I noodled.

When we approached the cashier, he waved away my wallet with a wide smile and pulled out his own.  My lunch tab came to $1.67. His was $1.59. (He got a discount because he attended church the previous Sunday.)

This lunch meeting remains among my most cherished memories.

And may I mention that my short letter to the Times resulted in a food job I loved. I worked for IFIC, International Food Information Council, a non-profit foundation in Washington. My task was to speak to the media about agriculture and marine biotechnology.

Food Job for you: Science writer? Peanut allergy researcher?