As First Lady, Michelle Obama may have learned how to influence people – but she may not have that “making friends” thing down. Just ask America’s restaurant operators. Mrs. Obama addressed the board of the National Restaurant Association on Monday to talk about her childhood-obesity initiative, and her tone was far more provocative than friendly.
Essentially, the First Lady insisted, America’s restaurant operators are contributing far too little to the fight against childhood obesity, with one out of three American kids overweight or obese. And if they need ideas on how to offer healthier menu options, the First Lady has got some.
Sure, Mrs. Obama thanked the folks for what they’re already doing. But mainly she was there to assert her view that restaurants, which receive half of a family's food budget, are shirking their crucial role in helping American parents thwart obesity in their kids.
All of that, you know, "giving the children what they want to eat and what their parents want to buy them"? It has to stop, the First Lady said.
“These [menu] choices have to be easy to make and they have to give parents the confidence to know that they can go into any restaurant in this country and choose a genuinely healthy meal for their kids,” she told the restaurant association.
Any restaurant? Well, in case they missed her point, Mrs. Obama also told the restaurant chieftains to stop trying to get Americans to buy their products.
“Let’s be clear,” she said, borrowing a favorite “look-at-me-when-I’m-speaking-to-you” phrase from her husband. “It’s not enough just to limit ads for foods that aren’t healthy. It’s also going to be critical to increase marketing for foods that are healthy.”
Now, when it comes to menu options, Mrs. Obama had some advice as well. Of course she loves the idea of adding carrots and apple slices as choices for kids, but she thinks that consumers also should have to specifically ask for French fries in kids’ meals – even though, by her own admission, the First Lady is “a fry lover.”
And have restaurant operators thought of these options suggested by the Dietitian in Chief?: offering low-fat milk, maybe cutting the butter and cream in recipes, substituting tasty whole wheat pasta for that nasty semolina? After all, recipe formulation is their business, so certainly none of these ideas have been tried.
Apparently, Mrs. Obama was unaware of the thousands of menu alterations American restaurants already have made over the past decade in the direction of healthier options, in many cases already trying to take consumers where they don’t really want to go.
Why didn’t you just get it over with, Mrs. Obama, and hand out acceptable menus from the podium?
(For part 2 of the above video of her keynote address, click here).