Two Things Michelle Obama Should Ask For If She Is Serious About Obesity

Two Things Michelle Obama Should Ask For If She Is Serious About Obesity

The First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” program has had a lot of publicity lately.  We have strange videos of the president and vice-president taking laps around the White House, and  the First Lady and Will Ferrell holding a conference with kids about food.  Then a few days ago, Michelle Obama got up and helped announce changes in food labeling that are designed to highlight the amount of calories (by making the print bigger) and added sugars.  During the press conference, she said this:

“So there you stood, alone in some aisle in a store, the clock ticking away at the precious little time remaining to complete your weekly grocery shopping, and all you could do was scratch your head, confused and bewildered, and wonder, is there too much sugar in this product? Is 50 percent of the daily allowance of riboflavin a good thing or a bad thing? And how on Earth could this teeny little package contain five whole servings?

This stream of questions and worries running through your head when all you really wanted to know was, should I be eating this or not? Is this good for my kids or not? And if it is healthy, how much of it should I be eating? But unless you had a thesaurus, a calculator, a microscope, or a degree in nutrition, you were out of luck. So you felt defeated, and you just gave up and went back to buying the same stuff you always buy.”

Note to Michelle Obama – if I look “confused and bewildered” or feel “defeated” while I am grocery shopping, it’s because I have four children with me who are asking me several different questions all at once (mostly variations on “can we get that?”), or I’m trying to steer some behemoth of a shopping cart that we HAD to have because it is the “car” shopping cart and has steering wheels and THAT’S MY WHEEL and MOM HE’S TOUCHING ME and YOU STAY ON YOUR SIDE.  So, my distractions and lack of temper while shopping have nothing to do with the food I’m buying, Mrs. Obama, and more to do with the people I’m buying for.  I welcome you to try it sometime.

But let’s get back to the story.  I do know how to shop properly and read labels.  I had a mother who taught me how to cook and bake on a budget, and I have been through nutrition classes as an adult, and a forced diet change (thanks to having my gallbladder out two years ago), so I do know how to read labels.  I agree that many people don’t know how to read the labels, but often times, they don’t care about them, either.  The people that are wringing their hands and agonizing over the labels are already the people who know how to read them.  Making the print bigger isn’t going to make the difference that Mrs. Obama says she wants to make.

So here are my two suggestions that the First Lady could advocate for and implement immediately as a part of her “Let’s Move!” program.

First, eliminate the use of EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards and SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) funds (aka “food stamps”) on all pre-prepared sweet foods, fast foods, and restaurants.

This is the current list of what the USDA allows for purchase with SNAP money.  Per the “Food and Nutrition Act of 2008” :

  • Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, and ice cream are food items and are therefore eligible items
  • Seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are also food items and are therefore eligible items

Now, if you are like me, you are thinking “why should SNAP money go toward soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream and cake?  Aren’t those the VERY THINGS the First Lady is trying to discourage people from consuming so much of?”

And along with that, there are sites devoted to keeping track of which fast-food restaurants and other stores take EBT cards.  I’m pretty sure a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken isn’t on the First Lady’s list of approved foods… but it’s allowed by the USDA.

So, if Mrs. Obama was serious about changing how people eat, she would start with the money that the government already controls, and lobby Congress to eliminate processed sugars and fast foods from EBT and SNAP benefits.

Second, advocate for a return of home economics classes in public schools at the junior high and high school level.

What we do have in this country is a epidemic of people who feel defeated by cooking itself.  If you don’t believe me, just catch an episode of Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America.  My daughter, who is ten, and a budding chef herself, is already a better cook than these “worst of the worst.”  And the sad part is, that when there are open tryouts for this show, the lines are HUGE.  There are thousands of people in this country who have never learned how to properly prepare a meal from scratch, or who rely heavily on pre-prepared food, frozen foods, or other people for their meals.

I was fortunate enough to see a home ec class in action before they were eliminated from my junior high school, and then I took a combination health/PE class as a senior in high school that had cooking as a part of the curriculum.  (And no one ever got stabbed with a sharp knife.)  We can go into all the reasons why home ec was taken out of schools, but if the First Lady was serious about changing eating habits, then let’s start with teaching kids to cook.  These skills, sadly, are no longer commonly passed down from parent to child, for multiple reasons.  If we are to change kids’ minds about where food comes from – and it’s not out of a box – then let’s teach them something truly useful at school and have home economics brought back.

There, Mrs. Obama.  If you are really serious about impacting how American families actually eat, try these things.  Do you have the courage of your convictions to actually tell people using SNAP funds that they can’t buy ice cream or Domino’s Pizza with that money?  Do you have the desire to teach kids how to prepare food for themselves with practical hands-on experience?

Or is it just easier to make cutesy YouTube videos and demand a larger font size on a label?

I guess I already have my answer.

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Ava Gardner