Bellyaching About First Lady's Bok Choy

Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign doesn't please everyone

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Yesterday the Wire covered British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's fruit-and-vegetable crusade in America's schools. But he's not the only one making this a pet cause--First Lady Michelle Obama has also made children's diets a key component of her anti-obesity campaign, along with exercise, as she explains in her March 22 Newsweek piece. Like Oliver, she is getting some surprising backlash, too. Not everyone's happy with her ideas about food. In fact, some say the First Lady could be hurting, not helping, the nation's obese.

  • Garden-Fresh Focus Uncontroversial--Or Is It? "Why challenge this devotion to plants just tugged from the warm soil?" asks Slate's Daniel Engber. "A single-minded focus on fresh produce distracts us from the bigger problem: Our children are suffering from a lack of any fruits or vegetables whatsoever." Canned and frozen produce is generally not of markedly less nutritional value than fresh produce, and in some cases is more nutritious--it's also cheaper. Engber suggests that "under the guise of evidence-based public health, [Michelle Obama and others] export a set of values from one social class to another."
  • Doing People a Disservice "We aren't doing the nation's lardasses any favors," agrees Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward, "by implying that a carrot's not worth eating unless it still has the green stuff attached to the top, like the ones Bugs Bunny favors and fancy farmer's markets offer." That's not too different from how Engber phrases the matter: "What will happen if children learn to thumb their noses at frozen corn and canned beans? Will that shrink the fruit-and-vegetable gap [between classes], or will it only make things worse?"
  • Also: Bok Choy and Mustard Greens? "Hard to see many of the homeless lining up for those," snickers Brent Baker at conservative NewsBusters.
  • Oh, for Some Excitement! Calling the first lady "Michelle Milquetoast," The Washington Post's Dana Milbank seems to want her to take, if anything, more controversial positions. He rules her "agenda of nutrition, exercise and good parenting" very "domestic" and "unobjectionable." So what's the problem? "Avoiding controversy helps Obama keep her sky-high public standing ... But her low profile also means that she's been underutilized as an advocate of the president's agenda." He's left unmoved by her televised lettuce-watering--a bit anticlimactic after the campaign controvery over her patriotism.
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