The mainstream media was attacked for highlighting Michelle Obama’s Shake Shack visit. But they were right
A health-conscious Michelle Obama scarfing down a “burger, fries, a chocolate shake and a Diet Coke,” at a greasy hamburger joint? The irony was as thick as mayo. And for critics, it should have been faster to heat up than Easy Mac.
The item, however – reported by the Washington Post and later Good Morning America – was barely picked at. The website Mediaite chided the “mainstream media” for pushing the story and offered a backhanded compliment to the relatively quite conservative blogosphere for its “growth and maturity [or] recognition that even their own pundits find this line of attack idiotic”.
As far “scandals” go, this incident doesn’t quite pass mustard. But there’s nothing idiotic about it and Obama critics should have been right there with the “mainstream media” as it tallied up the First Dieter’s extra pounds.
Like a glistening holiday ham, childhood obesity – and the general expansion of America’s manifest density – has been a mouthwatering centrepiece for Michelle Obama, who launched her Let’s Move! campaign in 2010. On its face, the initiative is hard to argue against: the US is raising a generation of fatties who could use a little exercise, even if it means participating in such un-American activities as soccer and rugby. It’s where the rhetoric of healthy eating begins to morph into actual policy that critics should be concerned.
That is, critics should already be concerned.
While the Michelle-promoted “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” sounded like a great idea, the legislation has some gristle. The act – apart from giving more school children access to healthy food options! – gave the USDA “authority to set nutritional standard for all foods regularly sold in schools during the day.” That was a bit of a bone in the throat for parents who think their children should be governed by the smallest bureaucracy possible. After all, if you know the chef, it’s easier to fire the chef. Perhaps this is why Americans (probably fat Americans) overwhelming disapproved of the act when it was being touted last September.
It’s one thing to encourage people to treat their bodies like a sacred temple. It’s quite another to force people to do things for their own good, particularly when the results have no real effects, or worse. In January, for instance, Wal-Mart announced its own healthy food campaign offering cheaper, more easily available options, for which Mrs Obama took credit, saying it was a “sign that her signature … campaign is gaining traction among businesses, families and governments.” Unfortunately, a new study has found that proximity to healthy food doesn’t mean better eating and that people have a “complicated relationship” with their diets.
Apart from private efforts, Mrs Obama said curbing obesity is “going to require us working together – not just the administration but Congress, governors, mayors, parents, teachers.” Apparently, though “working together” has meant forcing compliance. In an act of social engineering, and segregation, Los Angeles has banned the building of fast food restaurants in poor, urban areas , presumably because the authorities think its blacks and minority are too stupid to make their own food choices (or, like students, they just don’t give a shit when it comes to required food labels). San Francisco has banned Happy Meals and New York City may be on its way. One could call the measures extreme, or just progressive solutions at the forefront of America’s War on Obesity. At best it’s a healthy appetizer to future initiatives. At worst: a strict vegan meal.
Michelle Obama is like a soccer mom who pressures others into “doing right” after “discovering” an amazing cure-all diet. As a result, us kids on the team have to suffer the indignity of eating baked tofu until our parents find another fad.
Except we’re not kids. And the fad, zealous government regulation of what we eat, is hard to bat down once it’s arrived. Sure, the argument – that Big Brother may have to pry that deep-fried, bacon-wrapped Twinkie from your cold dead hands (it was diabetes, RIP) – is a bit hard to chew, but it doesn’t mean it won’t ripen. Just look at what happened to one of the best post-meal activities, smoking.
It’s like when your parents said carrots will help you see in the dark; or when the First Lady called the country’s obesity “epidemic” not only a heath and economic problem, but a “national security threat.” (Imagine the reaction if Laura Bush had said: “Eat your broccoli or the terrorists have won.”)
Push back against this nutritional overreach can take two forms. One is already under way by state legislators trying to curb the the tide of meddlesome health-nut enthusiasts. The second is a good, ole-fashioned, food fight.
Attacking Michelle Obama’s choice of a burger and a shake as “hypocrisy” isn’t exactly the way to go, though. This is especially true for rabid conservatives by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, who’s partisan rhetoric are as about as appealing as an all-you-can-eat okra buffet. It’s also like the lard calling the margarine “fat.”
Instead, the First Lady’s diet deserves to be highlighted just as the Washington Post has done. It’s the same kind of personal nitpickery promoted by Mrs Obama, a taste of her own amuse-bouche, if you will. If proponents of Let’s Move! fire back that Michelle has every right to carry the weight of a quarter-pounder in those well-toned arms of hers because it’s a personal choice, then the reply is easy: How do you like them apples?
Unless the retort is anything short of “well, apples are part of a recommended – but not required – daily diet,” tell the health-crazed social engineer to “eat it.”
— Originally published on July 13, 2011. Read the real thing here.