Michelle Obama has made her strongest political intervention since leaving the White House, stating bluntly at a health conference: “Think about why someone is OK with your kids eating crap.”One of the former first lady’s signature legacies was an effort to reduce childhood obesity. Earlier this month, Donald Trump’s administration froze regulations that would cut sodium and increase whole grains served in school meals.
“We have a lot more work to do, for sure, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t let anybody take us back because the question is, where are we going back to?” Obama told a Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington.
“This is where you really have to look at motives, you know. You have to stop and think: why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you?”The remarks prompted cheers and applause from a packed hotel ballroom. Seemingly liberated from her official role, Obama was by turns combative, exasperated, feisty, incredulous, passionate, peeved and sardonic.
The 53-year-old demanded: “And why is that a partisan issue? Why would that be political? What is going on? You know, now that’s up to moms. Moms, think about this. I don’t care what state you live in. Take me out of the equation. Like me, don’t like me, but think about why someone is okay with your kids eating crap. Why would you celebrate that? Why would you sit idly and be okay with that?
“Because here’s the secret: if somebody is doing that, they don’t care about your kid, and we need to demand everyone to care deeply about kids. That’s all we have. So we should be driving this and every elected official on this planet should understand: don’t play with our children. Don’t do it.”Along with the delay in nutrition standards for school lunches announced by the U.S. agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, the Trump administration has also postponed rules instructing restaurants, grocery stores, and other outlets to put calories counts on their menus.
Evidently riled, Obama continued: “‘You shouldn’t know what you’re eating.’ Think about that. Stop there, think about that. ‘You shouldn’t know what you’re eating.’ You’re OK with that? Do you know people who are OK with that? I mean, I just find myself thinking, this isn’t my fight, you know, this is where you’ve got to look yourself in the eye.
“We need to look our neighbors in the eye and kind of go: ‘What is going on?’ Because this just isn’t that complicated, you know. Just tell me what’s in my food. Why is that a problem? So you have to ask yourself, what’s going on because I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.”
Sam Kass, a former White House chef and senior policy adviser for nutrition who was interviewing Obama, noted suggestions that an update on nutrition facts labels on food packages could also be slowed.Obama interjected, with sarcasm: “‘Keep families ignorant.’ That’s all I’m hearing. ‘You don’t need to know what’s in your food. You can’t handle that, Mom. Just buy this, be quiet, spend your money, you buy this, don’t ask us about what’s in your food, you know.’ How does that feel? How does that feel? ‘This isn’t information that you should know. We shouldn’t change a label to make it clearer and easier for you to just break down what you’re buying.’“So consumers out there – again, I don’t care where you’re from, what your party is – I would be highly insulted by that thought. ‘You want to talk about the nanny state and government intervention? Well, you just buy the food and be quiet. You don’t need to know what’s in it.’ That’s essentially what a move like this is saying to you, mom. They think you don’t care because what they hear from are the people who want their kids to eat whatever they want to eat.”
With Trump seemingly eager to reverse Obama’s work, advocates are increasingly pinning hopes on the private sector. This week, companies including Mars and Cumberland Farms announced initiatives with Partnership for a Healthier America, the foundation Obama helped create alongside her “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.
She did not mention Trump or other administration officials by name on Friday but, in warning how bad diets can lead to children being affected by diabetes, she remarked pointedly: “And I hope you have healthcare.”
Obama began the session on a lighter note, reflecting on her life since leaving the White House.
“Everything is really great,” she said. “Being ‘former’ is all right … The president’s good. He’s running around out there in the world with his shirt unbuttoned.”