A year from now the Obama administration will be a memory, and one of its laughable legacies is the “Let’s Move!” campaign started by Barack Obama’s wife, Michelle. Last month Politico ran an excellent history of the program, which it calls, apparently without much irony, a “sophisticated and strategic campaign,” whose accomplishments include schools serving more “whole grain pasta, breads and pizza” and a “revamp” of the nutritional guidelines pasted on packaged food throughout the country.
If this counts as “strategy” and “sophistication,” one would hate to see incompetence and crudity. As a matter of fact, we already have a pretty good example of both incompetence and crudity coming from Mrs. Obama herself: her signature piece of legislation, the “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” has apparently been such a failure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will levy fines against schools where food doesn’t meet the government’s mandates. In large school districts the fines could run as high as tens of millions of dollars.
This is the price we must pay for living in Michelle Obama’s “healthy,” “hunger-free” America.
I’ll Compensate for My Problems By Making Them Yours
As we learn from Politico, Mrs. Obama was inspired to take on childhood obesity in part because of her own struggles to feed her family well: with both her and her husband working, “family dinners too often slipped into a rotation of fast food, microwaved frozen dinners and pizza,” and her daughters began to get fat. One is tempted to ask: why did she let this happen in the first place, and what does it have to do with a massive campaign spearheaded by the federal government?
As a friend put it: “Michelle apparently can’t work a crock pot, so she takes it out on everybody.”
In the long arc of human history it has never, ever been easier to cook healthy food on a daily basis. Regularly falling back on junk food to feed your family—not a mortal sin, to be sure—is thus properly regarded as a personal failure, not a culinary fait accompli. Michelle could have done better. Barack could have, too.
Unfortunately for the Obamas, this admission strikes at the entire animating principle of Let’s Move!, which holds that parents are frequently helpless at feeding their children healthy food, so government must step in and bridge the gap. The first premise is false, and consequently the second is invalid.
Parents are not helpless. Every parent knows that a carrot is better than a Cheez Doodle and that a tuna salad sandwich is better than a bowl of donut holes. Bad cooking—serving your children junk food so often they get fat and sick—is ultimately an act of the will, not of stupidity. It is a failure of choice, not a stroke of fate.
Healthy Food Is Cheap
A great deal of anguish is expended over the idea that, for poorer Americans, this kind of failure is inevitable because of lack of money. This is false. It is not the case, as pundits like to suggest, that eating poorly is a matter of finances. It is actually cheaper to eat well, not necessarily by calorie but by edible gram and per portion, which are actually the more important concerns. This is all the most obvious when you consider that Americans (particularly poor Americans) already eat too many calories.
For the most part, people whose diets make themselves and their children sick do it for a host of reasons that are not related to helplessness: they may be lazy; perhaps they do not want to learn how to cook or don’t know where to start, or can’t read well enough to make out recipes; maybe they don’t want to deal with the potential failures of scratch cooking and new recipes, perhaps a dozen other reasons.
Many poor people are constrained not by money but by time—if both parents work long or irregular hours, say, or if the household only has one parent, which is common. Fast food is predictably an attractive option in this case, for oneself or one’s children. But this nevertheless remains a weak excuse in all but the worst cases: just about anyone is perfectly capable of teaching one’s children from an early age how to safely cook healthy food, after all, and in doing so one makes one’s children a valuable and integral part of the household economy, a position that teaches not only healthy eating but responsibility, authority, and pride.
This means Let’s Move! has a laudable goal—reducing childhood obesity and encouraging healthy eating in the United States—but it is, from the perspective of self-government and the essence of the American character, a stupid and imprudent program, detrimental to our national identity and a bad use of the already-gargantuan federal government. The entire charade is unbecoming of a free republic. Michelle Obama’s desire to “publicly shame” food corporations is repugnant, and so is the threat of regulatory retaliation for companies that do not get in line with the government’s own culinary whims.
This is not what our government was designed to do. It is not the birthright of the American citizenry to be nagged by a public busybody who can’t get over her own culinary and parenting failures.
As the authors point out, it will be years if not decades before we know if Let’s Move! had any effect on childhood obesity rates in the United States. It probably did not; the rate was already falling before, and Michelle Obama likely did not accelerate the decrease. What Let’s Move! did do was degrade the American experiment and enlarge the scope of the government by several more degrees. It should never have passed. With any luck, after January of next year, it will fade into the irrelevance it so richly deserves.