Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So close, Michelle. And yet...

There's an article in today's New York Times about Michelle Obama's vocal support of eating fresh, organic foods .

“You know, we want to make sure our guests here [at Miriam’s Kitchen] and across the nation are eating nutritious items,” said Mrs. Obama, who served lunch to several homeless men and women and delivered eight cases of fresh fruit to the soup kitchen, all donated by White House employees.


In a speech at the Department of Agriculture last month, Mrs. Obama described herself as “a big believer” in community gardens that provide “fresh fruits and vegetables for so many communities across this nation and world.”

Some of those who had called on President Obama to use the White House as a bully pulpit to help improve Americans’ eating habits are cheering Mrs. Obama on.

They were thrilled to learn that the White House gets fresh fruits and vegetables from farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. And they delighted in the news that the Obamas had served organic wine at their first big White House dinner, a gathering of the nation’s governors last month.

It's great that eating fresh, organic and local (though NJ and Pennsylvania isn't exactly local to D.C.) is getting such attention and promotion from the White House. If you care about food, and food issues, the Obama administration has given you a lot to be happy about.

But then, Mrs. Obama goes and ruins it for me:

In the November issue of Parents magazine, she and her husband described their decision to ditch juice boxes and processed foods.

“A couple of years ago — you’d never know it by looking at her now — Malia was getting a little chubby,” Mr. Obama told the magazine.

They took action, Mrs. Obama said, when “her doctor — he really monitors this type of thing — suggested we look at her diet. So we cut out juice boxes, sweets and processed foods.”

"Malia was getting a little chubby." (If you're being interviewed about eating nutritious food, does the journalist force you -- at gunpoint -- to invoke the obesity ooga-booga-booga?)

Malia is 10 (her birthday is, I kid you not, July 4, 1998). So when she was getting "a little chubby" she was 8. Did anyone think that, maybe, she was gaining weight so that her body could use the stored energy to grow a few inches? Like lots of healthy kids do all the time? (Even if they eat all organic, non-processed food grown within a 25-mile radius of their homes, kids will do this.)

And thank god you'd never know -- now -- that Malia used to be chubby. Because, a chubby in the White House? Quelle horror!

But, let's play Devil's advocate. Why would Malia's doctor tell the Obamas to toss out the processed foods if he didn't think there was a causal relationship between these foods and Malia's increase in weight?

Maybe because doctors, like the rest of us, are inundated with the message that the foods we eat directly lead to obesity, despite research that says our weight is largely genetic and being "overweight" might not be a bad idea for long term health . (Also, many studies discussing the obesity epidemic are sponsored by diet and fitness clubs, weight loss magazines and companies with prescription drugs to sell.)

But back to my main point. I would love to read an article -- that's *not* in a foodie magazine -- where local, fresh, organic food is celebrated for its DELICIOUSNESS and/or its GOODNESS FOR YOUR BODY AND MIND, without referencing, either directly or indirectly, that eating well will help you get ready for swimsuit season. Or, get you into the skinny jeans. Or, whatever B.S. happiness becoming thin is supposed to achieve.

So my plea to Michelle Obama: please promote good food because it tastes good and is good for you. And leave the weight gain/loss out of it.

A few thoughts from other people:
And it begins… Obama girls’ diets, weight make national news
Public Health, Nutrition, and the Obama family
The Obama Girls Are Not The Olsen Twins
Is This "Healthful?"


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this post. That stuff is awful for you but she is only 10 and from what I seen I cant imagine her being too chunky. But yest I think they need to promote how awesome the food is and how wonderful its for you and environment.

Liz said...

I somewhat disagree with your post. I think you may be overreacting a bit.

"Why would Malia's doctor tell the Obamas to toss out the processed foods if he didn't think there was a causal relationship between these foods and Malia's increase in weight?"

Because juice boxes, processed foods, and sweets shouldn't really be a part of any 10 year old's diet.

I agree that we should stress the importance of fresh, local food for many reasons. I also think that the Obamas were correct to consult the doctor and cut those items out of their daughter's diet. JMO

Elyse said...

You're right: local, organic foods do taste better, first and foremost. It's an added bonus that many of them have to be healthy. If we focused on eating these great foods, I think the "health" aspect might just fall into place!

Laura Rebecca said...

Thank you for your comments, ladies!

Liz, I respect your opinion and agree with you that reducing refined sugars & grains in all diets (and by "diet" I mean "what people eat," not a "lose weight" diet) is a good idea.

But my problem with the above quote is that the Obamas, in consultation with their pediatrician, reduced those things in Malia's diet because she was "getting chubby," something that the pediatrician "really monitors."

The weight gain was the motivating factor in changing the diet, not that sweets and processed foods should be a "sometimes food". It's a meme -- associating one's weight with their physical health -- that I have lost all patience with.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this post. What I always find funny is that people equate organic and local with being some sort of amazing weight loss health food. it is much healthier, without all the processing and god knows what is in the other stuff, and that certainly has its benefits for your health. I eat almost completely local and organic, and I swear there is nothing "diet food" about the stuff that I bake. Sure, I am not using processed sugars and i am incorporating whole grains whatnot, but you aren't going to lose your gasp chubby figure by eating organic or local.
Now, if people were to focus on the actual health benefits of eating local and organic, that would really be something. I have an auto immune disorder that has improved substantially by going the organic route.
However, kudos to Michelle Obama for at least addressing the issue and opening it up for conversation/awareness.

Deborah Eley De Bono said...

That is a bit scary thinking an eight-year-old was a bit chubby and needed help. I do agree there are some younger kids with horrible eating habits that are not so much overweight but under exercised but a bit chubby should not be a red-flag for parents to put them on a diet.

Lisa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Rebecca said...

Thanks for your comment Lisa.

I *do* have kids. But, whether I do nor not does not dictate my being "right" or "wrong" about this -- it's simply my opinion.

I do believe that everyone should be eating fresher, unrefined. But, I don't believe that BMI or physical weight is directly correlated to health issues/problems. Here are some reasons why. Also, here's an interesting post called The BMI Project that challenges the standards set by BMI.

Nor do I believe that one's weight(as outlined by the Obama's pediatrician) is the REASON we should avoid processed foods.

Anonymous said...

I have to diagree with this. I DO think we have to instill a greatly different attitude towards food in our children because, yes, childhood obesity most definitely is caused by unhealthy eating and activity behavior. Genetics has little to do with it; it controls WHERE the fat goes, but certainly not how much.