First Lady Michelle Obama leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Last week, the First Lady appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to cajole Leno to eat his veggies. For his trouble, Leno had to eat a slice of veggie pizza with zucchini and eggplant (yuck), baked sweet potato fries (well, at least he could dip them into ketchup), and an apple with honey from the White House garden. Leno could have stepped into a hornet’s nest, but he was a good sport about it and ate his veggies like a scolded child.
I suppose that under those circumstances, it is usually better to respond with honey than vinegar. But sometimes beets can be effective. The First Lady admitted she had an aversion to beets, and Leno later surprised her with a plate of the red variety of beta vulgaris. Mrs. Obama enjoyed eating her veggie about as much as Leno did his. Well, if you don’t want to join them, you can occasionally beet them.
Earlier in the interview, when the First Lady said that her mother and daughters had baked a red velvet cake for her birthday, Leno asked, “What is the calorie count?” To which Mrs. Obama replied rather defensively, “It’s fine.” Well, at 513 calories per serving, I’m sure it’s quite fine. Whatever the caloric content, the red velvet cake was apparently special ordered rather than homemade. The First Lady’s enjoyment of red velvet cake notwithstanding, much of the conversation focused on Leno’s non-consumption of vegetables. She asked him, “How do you get your fiber?” and then turned to the audience and asked, “Don’t you wonder?”
Well, no, actually. Until Mrs. Obama asked, I had given nary a moment’s thought to how Jay Leno obtains his fiber — much less the amount of it he does or doesn’t consume. Frankly, Leno should have told the First Lady it was none of her damn business. I’m sure most people would welcome such questions about their diets from the First Lady about as much as the First Lady would welcome a question about how much her trip to Costa del Sol a couple of summers ago cost the taxpayers. So let Mrs. Obama have her red velvet cake, if she leaves us to our burgers, pomme frites, and Coca-Cola (or Pepsi). It was the late Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who said, “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” So if the state can stay out of Canadian bedrooms, why should there be any place for it in American kitchens?
While I understand the need to encourage physical activity among young people, the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign leaves a great deal to be desired, particularly where it concerns “the epidemic of childhood obesity.” According to letsmove.gov, “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are [sic] overweight or obese.” But is America’s youth really getting fatter? In 1997, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) changed the definition of obesity, and, as Dr. Richard Fogoros put it, “thirty million Americans who had been of normal weight now found themselves to be obese, all without gaining a pound.”
But even if the CDC’s definition of obesity has expanded, it would appear that its definition of epidemic isn’t quite as elastic. The CDC defines an epidemic as “the occurrence of more cases of disease than would normally be expected in a specific place or group of people over a given period of time.” Simply put, obesity is not a disease, although it most certainly contributes to heart disease, certain types of cancer and diabetes. Nevertheless, the CDC does describe obesity in epidemic terms, stating, “In recent decades, obesity has reached epidemic proportions in populations whose environments offer an abundance of calorie-rich foods and few opportunities for physical activity.”
Yet this is a highly debatable statement. The idea that Americans have full plates of food but are somehow starved of physical activity seems rather peculiar. It isn’t a question of Americans having few opportunities for physical activity, but rather a question of Americans choosing not to exercise or simply not making it a priority in their lives. What prevents anyone from leaving their home and going for a walk, a jog, or a swim at a nearby pool — other than a lack of desire and motivation? Even if you prefer to stay home, one can always get moving with exercise equipment or an exercise video. If you’re inclined toward video games, a half hour of Nintendo Wii baseball is a very nice way to build up a sweat.
Now where it concerns young people who are overweight or obese, who don’t have a physical fitness role model at home, and who are mercilessly teased and bullied at school, having mentors to help encourage outdoor activity could make a lasting difference. But does it really take Mrs. Obama force-feeding America slice after slice of zucchini and eggplant pizza to make that happen? So long as the First Lady is content to indulge in red velvet cake, I suspect many Americans will find her words of advice hard to swallow.