Things got political, in a good way, at an event Friday afternoon honoring children who competed in the White House’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama spoke at the Kids’ State Dinner in the East Room of the White House, which was essentially a way to promote Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. In addition to the predictable happy-talk about keeping fit and eating right, though, the First Lady threw in directly took on the people who are trying to gut the school nutrition requirements she’s worked so hard to improve.
In May, House Republicans introduced an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that would allow any school to opt out of the requirements completely if they could show their school lunch program is losing money. The First Lady fought back by rallying supporters, but the bill passed out of the Republican-controlled Appropriations Committee, and the White House issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing the bill.
At Friday’s event, the First Lady used part of her speech to ask kids and parents to get involved in fighting against those who would roll back school lunch requirements. She joked that “some of you might have friends who want to bring back the junk food in the schools, right? Because there’s always those kids. They’re like, ‘Give me my junk food back.'”
“And I know that in recent months, we’ve even seen grownups, including folks in Congress, trying to undo some of the progress that we’ve made to get healthier food into our schools,” Mrs. Obama continued. “And while the vast majority of the schools are doing just fine with these new standards, those few complaining voices happen to be the loudest voices, and they’re getting the most attention right now.”
She then asked the kids to “make your voices heard,” and urged parents to “speak up as well, and to continue speaking up. Go to those PTA meetings and those school board meetings and tell them what you know and what you’re learning, to make sure that they’re listening to all the voices on this issue.”
“There’s a lot of money involved in feeding our kids at school,” the First Lady added. “We are currently spending $10 billion a year — did you hear that, $10 billion a year — on our school lunch programs. So it’s not surprising that there are certain interests that are resisting change and trying to take us back to the old ways of doing business, because for them there’s a lot of money is on the line. But you all have a right to expect that your hard-earned tax dollars will be spent on food that meets basic nutrition standards.”
It is strange that an issue as seemingly uncontroversial as child nutrition could become so contentious, but there are two key ingredients here, the first being the huge vats of money that the First Lady mentioned. The other, though, is the unhinged glee that conservatives take in attacking this First Lady, which adds considerable volume to the special interests she identifies. In spite of all of that, though, she’s not backing down, Given her immense popularity, I wouldn’t bet against her.
On a lighter note, especially given all that he’s had to deal with lately, President Obama also spoke at the event, and put his family’s guilty pleasures on blast. Malia’s ice cream, Sasha’s pies, Michelle’s french fries (which she promises she’s “taking a break from”), and for the Commandeer-in-Chief?
“Chips and guacamole. Basically, if there is a bowl of good chips and guacamole, I lose my mind.”