Let me be the first to admit; I’m a huge huge huge huge fan of Michelle Obama. I can't say it enough. She’s from the South side of Chicago. She attended Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, my alma mater and the place where I awkwardly grew into the young woman I am today. She's intelligent; she went on to Princeton University for undergrad and Harvard for law school. I sit and dream of the day when I get to shake hands with her, casually bonding over hair care products, pizza in Chicago, which house at WY was the best house (green house), and what it was like attempting to flourish in a predominantly white, Ivy-league institution. You know, casual. It’s admiring to watch a black woman thrive. Because really, #blackgirlsrock. But I’ve found that criticism is healthy and I’ve got a critique for Michelle Obama. Let’s talk, Let’s Move.
In 2010, Mrs. Obama launched the Let’s Move! campaign to address the increasing epidemic of childhood obesity in the United States. She envisioned it all; transforming subpar lunches in schools across the nation, empowering parents and caregivers to cut sugary drinks from meals, and making physical activity for youth the utmost priority. But for some reason, Michelle, never overtly mentioned the real reason why many of the country's youth and adult population suffer from a mountain of health problems; corporations and capitalism. (Although she has mentioned corporations, and their responsibility for false advertisement in publications... one has to dig.) And I know, I know, capitalism... the word tossed out so very often on this blog. Capitalism... the root of many of the world’s problems. No, really, it is. Racism? Poverty? Environmental degradation? C.a.p.i.t.a.l.i.s.m.
Why are we having conversations about food and healthy eating without having a conversation about the corporations, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Kellogg, and Unilever, to name a few, who contribute to many of the nation’s budding health epidemics? The corporations that combine some of the worst, processed, high in fat, salt, sugar foods that exist and spend billions of dollars disillusioning people through incredibly elaborate marketing. (Yes, they've even fooled me innumerable times.) These groups are responsible for the obesity epidemic. To solve obesity, we have to start by cutting off the involvement these multinational corporations have within our food system.
But no, that’s impossible, we all make the choice to drink pop, eat chips, and go to McDonalds!
No. Corporations thrive off of profiting from low-income communities who have no other choice but to get a $1 Big Mac and $1 fry from McDonalds. Step into any poor neighborhood. What do you see an abundance of? Definitely not grocery stores! It's fast food joints, liquor stores, convenience stores and the such. Corporations also have their hands down the throat of government officials, who not only fail to protect you, but profit off of exploiting individuals (the constituents they are supposed to be representing) who are unable to afford healthy, fresh produce and often times don’t have access to it. It’s no wonder that in 2015 the food and beverage spent nearly $33 million dollars lobbying in Washington D.C. This is probably one of the reasons Michelle couldn’t find it in her to point the fingers on the corporations; Obama’s being funded by them.
It happens all the time, where the responsibility to bring about change is shifted onto the individual. Similar rhetoric is used in the environmental movement; cut off the lights, use less water, eat less meat. I completely agree that these can work, but it absolves all responsibility from corporations who often times created the problem. (Say, Exxon Mobile, who knew nearly 40 years ago the link between burning fossils fuels and climate change.) We free corporations from blame when we focus on the individual to solve societal problems.
Another example; blaming the current plight of black people… on black people. (Which many try to do.) Pull yourself up by the bootstraps! You can do it if you try hard enough! Michelle’s husband, Barack Obama, actually used this strategy consistently throughout his reign as president. (Mr. Obama, I also adore you. But as I mentioned, critique is healthy.) It is ineffective to tell black people to work harder, study harder, do everything harder, without acknowledge the structural inequities, from slavery to Jim Crow to housing discrimination to mass incarceration to subprime loans, etc, that have influenced our present situation and leave many black people substantially worse off than other groups of society. We try harder... and yet were are still at a disadvantage. But I digress.
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign imposed band-Aid solutions to the obesity epidemic. Let’s get kids to move a little more, exercise the fat off. Let’s get better food into schools. Let’s avoid the inequalities ingrained within the system and pretend that a school garden will solve the obesity epidemic. Hate to break it to you? But it won’t. It won’t if we’re not addressing the problems that we’re faced with at the core. Thus, in order to create the world Michelle Obama envision, one free of childhood obesity, one with healthy children, we have to stand up to the corporations profiting off of the distribution of fast, cheap, and unhealthy food. In the work that I do, with Get Them to the Green and other food justice and environmental education work in the future, I wholly acknowledge this fact; that our solutions must be not be band-aid solutions. It is absolutely necessary to call out the culprits and hold them accountable for the mess they created.
Food for Thought:
- Am I being to hard on Let's Move? (If so, how do we actually solve the health and obesity epidemic affecting many countries around the world? If we're talking radical solutions, what's the core issue at hand that we need to solve?)
I'm sure that you may think that I'm being to hard on the wonderful former First Lady. Well... I think we're not being hard enough on people on that's why we're in the mess that we are in. We excuse people for curtseying around the problem. I acknowledge that Let's Move! was a brilliantly designed campaign to spark conversation on childhood obesity, nutrition, etc. I also acknowledge that it's not enough.