Michelle Obama’s dream

The national fat-fighting movement gets going

February 19, 2010

Recently, Michelle Obama unveiled her campaign to fight childhood obesity in America: Let's Move! The program has four goals: to educate American families about healthy food; to make healthy food affordable and accessible everywhere; to bring better food to schools; and to increase physical activity among kids.

Just after it was announced, Marion Nestle applauded the effort:

This is big news. I see much to admire here. The campaign focuses on kids. It is sensitive to political realities (it’s called the uncontroversial “Let’s Move,” not the inflammatory “Let’s Eat Less” or “Let’s Eat Better”). It’s brought a large number of groups on board (the New York Times account emphasizes this point). It aims to do something useful about school food and food “deserts” (areas without grocery stores). And it derives directly and explicitly from the White House garden.

But it didn’t take long for others to see problems with the program. Over at Grist, Ed Bruske, the Washington, D.C.-based journalist and urban farmer who recently wrote a blog series about his daughter’s school lunches, lauds Ms. Obama’s plan, but is skeptical that the money is available to make big changes. He talks with Ann Cooper, the “renegade lunch lady” who’s reformed school-lunch programs in Berkeley and Boulder, Colorado. Changing school lunch, says Cooper, is the “hardest thing [she’s] ever done.” Bruske quotes Cooper:

“You need to change the menus, change your procurement system, train the entire staff, get more equipment, find more money, do fundraisers, train the staff some more, market to parents, market to teachers, market to kids, retest recipes, work with unions, figure out the budget . . . It goes on and on.”

As Nestle points out, Michelle Obama has many allies in her campaign. But unless more money is provided, can real reform happen?

Jamie Oliver wants to help. Oliver, the British chef and food reformer, has just won the 2010 TED Prize — $100,000 to fulfill a wish. His wish?

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again, and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”

Here’s Oliver on CNN, with his take on reforming the food system and Michelle Obama’s campaign:

But in the trailer for Oliver’s new TV show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,” the challenges faced by the British chef, and the First Lady of the United States, are evident. Maybe the two of them will conspire.

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