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Michelle Obama Didn't Want to Nag People About School Lunch

But she sure did anyway!

Michael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/NewscomMichael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

In her new book, Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama indicates that she wasn't trying to force healthy food initiatives down people's throats. But the results of her attempt to get children to eat better tell a different story.

In the months following her move to the White House, Obama tried to "develop the pillars on which our larger effort would be built," she writes. "We'd give parents better information to help them make healthy choices for their families." She adds: "We'd work to create healthier schools. We'd try to improve access to nutritious food. And we'd find more ways for young people to be physically active."

Obama goes on to acknowledge the concern that her efforts might be seen as government overreach. "The West Wing was apparently fretting about my plans, worried I'd come off as a finger-wagging embodiment of the nanny state at a time when controversial bank and car-company bailouts had left Americans extra leery of anything that looked like government intervention," she writes.

But the former first lady claims that wasn't her goal. She writes that she wanted to "make this about more than government." Obama believed a "human appeal" was better than a "regulatory one" in order to convince companies that supply school lunches and produce soft drinks to make changes. It was better to "collaborate," she writes, than to "pick a fight."

Obama was wary of using politics to accomplish her goals. "I wasn't interested in following the tenets of the political world or appearing on Sunday morning news shows," she writes. Still, it seems like it would be impossible for her to carry out all of her plans without politics. It was a memorandum signed in February 2010 by President Barack Obama, after all, that created what she describes as "a first-of-its-kind federal task force on childhood obesity."

Michelle Obama's efforts continued throughout 2010 as she advocated for the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is most famous for setting nutrition standards for school lunches around the country. Obama notes that while she was "generally happy to stay out of politics and policy making," this was her "big fight—the issue for which I was willing to hurl myself into the ring."

It was a fight she won. Republicans took back control of the House in the 2010 midterms, but President Obama "made the effort a priority in his dealings with lawmakers, knowing that his ability to make sweeping legislative changes was about to diminish," she writes. The president signed the bill into law in December.

The first lady saw this as a big success. Among other things, the bill "added more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy to roughly forty-three million meals served daily," Obama writes. "For me, it was a straightforward good thing—a potent, ground-level way to address childhood obesity."

Obama's motives were admirable—healthier children is a worthy goal. The problem is having the federal government tell schools what they can and can't serve to students. As lawyer and food policy expert Baylen Linnekin has explained in Reason, the changes that came about thanks to the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act were not for the better. Not only did food costs go up, but many students decided the quality of the healthier meals was so bad that the food wasn't even worth eating, meaning that lots of food went to waste.

In 2014, Reason's Robby Soave even took note of the sarcastic Twitter label #ThanksMichelleObama, which students used to share pictures of their less-than-appetizing lunches.

Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown has noted that school cafeterias should certainly be encouraged to serve healthier food. But as she pointed out, "setting highly specific and ironclad rules for schools across the country crosses the line." The federal government can't possibly know what will work best for each school better than local officials and actual school administrators.

In a 2014 piece for Time magazine, Reason's Nick Gillespie may have put it best: "If we can't trust our schools to figure out how best to fill their students' stomachs, why the hell are we forcing our children to attend such institutions in the first place?"

Michelle Obama seems to have had pure motives when it came to decreasing childhood obesity. Unfortunately, decreasing individual choice wasn't the answer.

Photo Credit: Michael Donhauser/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

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  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    She didn't want to nag us. We just wouldn't do what she wanted and went on making our own decisions.

    It's our own fault, really.

  • DiegoF||

    Just like her husband's Congress failed to act! But I have faith we can do better in the future. That's not who we are.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Obama was wary of using politics to accomplish her goals.

    I'll just drop this here...

  • Jerryskids||

    She really didn't want to have to hit us. Why did we make her have to hit us? Can't you see how much it hurts her to have to hit us? If only we loved her as she loves us and did what she asked for our own good. But no, we don't love her, we force her to hit us when it's the last thing she would ever want to do. I weep for poor, sad, victimized Michelle. She cares so much and we care so little.

  • Paloma||

    Michelle Obama is a natural nag. I wouldn't be surprised if she ran for President in 2020. She would be just about the only Democrat who could beat Trump.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Who is michelle obama?

    Is that the syrup lady?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    In her new book, Becoming, former First Lady Michelle Obama

    Oh that's why I've been seeing her all over the place. Sorry I tend to keep the sound on things muted.

  • DiegoF||

    I keep reading it as Beclowning. I been commenting too long.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Apparently we're going to keep getting these nuggets trickle downstream into our sifting pans for a while as people go through the book.

  • Mr. JD||

    Nagging is annoying. Mandating is much cleaner.

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    "Man"dating? Look at this patriarchal privileger over here.

  • I'm Not Sure||

    "We'd give parents better information to help them make healthy choices for their families."

    Getting better information **cough** food pyramid **cough** from the government? Thanks, I think.

  • DiegoF||

    You don't sound so good there. Maybe you need more nutritious government lunches to keep healthy!

  • ||

    And thinking that the problem is "information" really only shows that she just kinda picked up this pet cause when she got into the White House without actually knowing anything about the already-existing-movement to improve school lunches.

    I was involved in a high-profile project about 12-13 years ago now where famous Bay-Area chef Alice Waters worked with Berkeley Unified to improve the nutritional quality of the lunches. Her foundation paid six-figures to bring in a top-class chef and she pioneered a gardening program at the middle school where students could raise organic vegetables for use in the brand-new restaurant-grade cafeteria we built for them (that's the part I was involved in).

    The program was nearly an unmitigated failure. The chef (whom I knew, since we had to work closely with her on specifying kitchen equipment) was pretty clear that on $4 per day per student there's really only so much you can do. They tried pizza with goat cheese and whole wheat crust. The kids hated it. They tried hiding vegetables under the cheese. The kids hated it.

    As it turns out, what public schools offer now is pretty much just what you're going to get for $4 per student. Information and legislation have nothing to do with it.

  • Dillinger||

    Becoming what?

  • DiegoF||

  • Dillinger||

    hilarious. it's a trap!

  • DiegoF||

    The West Wing was apparently fretting about my plans

    I'd have backed down too, like they did, if she came at me with the pose in the picture in response. Come on Reason; you have humor enough to give us that but then you won't follow through with the alt-text?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Longtobefree||

    Socialism is good, according to the Seattle Times - - - - - -

  • Sevo||

    She's as good at lying as her husband.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Not quite. Her permanent angry glower gives the game away.

  • Ken Hagler||

    "...many students decided the quality of the healthier meals was so bad that the food wasn't even worth eating..."

    Considering the quality of government school food when I was an inmate in the 1970s and 80s, it's an impressive accomplishment producing something dramatically worse that isn't immediately fatal.

  • Social Justice is neither||

    WTF is up with the glowing coverage of a narcissistic nanny-stater at a supposedly libertarian site?

    She didn't want to nag, but she did anyway. She wanted it to be about more than government, like total control of the serfs. Human appeal is better than a regulatory one, except when you want to stick a gun in someone's face for defying you.

    She epitomizes everything that is wrong with progressives today in their religious zeal to remake us into new soviet man.

    But who doesn't love a person who's never been proud of her country until it benefited her.

  • Sevo||

    That article was not "glowing":
    "The problem is having the federal government tell schools what they can and can't serve to students. As lawyer and food policy expert Baylen Linnekin has explained in Reason, the changes that came about thanks to the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act were not for the better."

  • Tony||

    Anyone trying to reduce the number of fat kids in the world is good in my book.

  • Paloma||

    So, were the number of fat kids in US schools actually reduced?

  • DRM||

    Tony, explaining his support for concentration camps, everybody.

  • TuIpa||

    So you're good with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

    Oh, we already knew that it's just shocking to see you finally admit it.

  • Tony||

    Those were skinny kids.

  • Longtobefree||

    Planned Parenthood is well on the way to that goal. Thousands of kids will never get fat due to their efforts.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Tony, you are a self-teeing golf ball.

  • Sevo||

    Tony|11.13.18 @ 7:41PM|#
    "Anyone trying to reduce the number of fat kids in the world is good in my book."

    Tony's mom having an abortion is good in my book.

  • SIV||

    Obama's motives were admirable—healthier children is a worthy goal.

    "Healthy children" was the goal of the eugenics movement. Was that "admirable and worthy"?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Who is this Michelle Obama that you speak of?

  • Longtobefree||

    Creating a federal task force could never be considered doing something political?

  • Rock Lobster||

    __________ seems to have had pure motives when it came to __________. Unfortunately, decreasing individual choice wasn't the answer.

    Sometimes generalities are true.

  • Sevo||

    VERY good!

  • ||

    I'm sorry. The Obamas lack class. They're showing little decorum during this Presidency. Obama's antics amounts to nothing more than a little shit undermining a sitting President.

    Quite the insufferable couple.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Nobody expected bigots to like the Obamas. Most decent people are just waiting for the bigots to die off, improving America by taking their stale thinking and vestigial intolerance to the grave.

  • Alcibiades||

    Still bitter, still clinging and still incoherent.

    I think RevBot actually learned a couple new words since yesterday.
    What's the word score now, around 50 or so I'd guess.

  • NoVaNick||

    It seems that Nancy Reagan set a precedent for first ladies/spouses to pursue policies goals that would land them on morning TV shows-I guess to appeal to the moms. Michelle had school lunches, Melania has bullying, Nancy Reagan had Just Say No...Hillary? Not sure what she had, but if Bill were first gentleman right now, wonder what his cause would have been-maybe porn addiction?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Hillary claimed she was co-president and pushed for a national health plan and gave us the he Republican Revolution of 1994.

    Later she ran for president and gave us Trump.

  • The Last American Hero||

    So when she scolded an Olympic gymnastics champion for liking McDonalds, it wasn't her intention to be a scold?

    She can fuck off and roast a Porg.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Michelle Obama Didn't Want to Nag People"

    Wrong
    The Left lives to nag, harangue, control, and subjugate.

  • Matthew Chalice||

    "Michelle Obama Didn't Want to Nag People About School Lunch"

    Nevertheless, she persisted.

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