Michelle Obama: America’s Lunchlady

Last Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to the National Council of La Raza about how Latino kids are too fat.

I heard about it on Tuesdeay, and I thought about it all week, but I didn’t write about it because I knew my thoughts weren’t clear on it until today. To be honest, I’m not sure if my thoughts are really clear on it now, but it’s still bothering me, so I’m going to write this, and let it go.

I’ve been annoyed by Mrs. Obama’s anti-obesity campaign since she started it. It felt an awful lot like a very rich and privileged lady criticizing impoverished communities for doing the best they can, and ignoring the mitigating factors that cause the issues of childhood obesity in the first place. And for what? To reduce the national cost of caring for poor people when their undernourished and over-abused bodies finally fail after years of maltreatment at the hands of exacting work schedules and little to no accessibility to healthy choices.

This clip illustrates it pretty well for me. In the same two minute period, she goes from naming all the issues that prevent people in poverty situations from maintaining physical health, to acting like all we have to do is work harder and we can have the same advantages as rich people have. Where have we heard that before?

Poor people, if you would just buy more expensive food and live in safer neighborhoods your children wouldn’t be such fat failures.

What about the farm subsidies that keep high fructose corn syrup one of the cheapest and most abundant products we make? What about the widening gap between rich and poor? What do you say to a country that is pulling it’s wealthiest out of the mud, but kicking it’s workers in the gut along the way?

“Eat more veggies?” Lady, you’re missing the point by such a large margin that it’s painful to me.

In the La Raza speech, she plays up the poverty of her youth quite a bit, but I don’t buy it. On the one hand, I have a hard time relating to a Princeton/Harvard alum with a seven figure income. On the other hand, having come from a situation where getting and having food was an issue for me and being accepted into a (much less prestigious) private university on wits alone I can relate to the sense of homelessness that can cause. You’re not in the same league as your home-town friends anymore, but once you’ve felt the pit of hunger, even if only briefly, you’re not the same woman as your private school buddies.

Anyone who’s ever gone hungry knows the truth about themselves in a way that those more comfortable individuals never can. We know that every man is only a handful of calories away from being an animal. That is a wonderful advantage, and a terrible burden to bring to the middle class.

Even as I sit here and complain about how dare this woman come to my people and tell them to work harder when that’s the very reason so many of us don’t have the advantage of health that middle class and white people have, I haven’t gone hungry since I graduated from college. I got away because of my hard work. But I also remember what it was like, perhaps more than Michelle, perhaps less than her, to have your own body falling out from under you because you can’t afford to take care of it, and because if you don’t keep pushing yourself, you never will.

In my experience, hard work will get you anything you want. But it will never get you everything you want. Sacrifices have to be made, limited resources can’t be stretched indefinitely.

You can’t expect a person to work hard at work, without union representation, frequently without the luxury of sick days or even social security while his boss takes a larger and larger margin off the top and the state cuts public services and fails to provide healthy alternatives to also take what little time and capital they do have and become nutritional and exercise experts. Because that’s what you would need to be in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle on the money some people have available for food. All so the state doesn’t have to incur any further expenses for the populations they refused to care for or protect in the first place. I don’t have enough middle fingers for how this makes me feel.

Here you can see the full video of her speech:

P.S. Does anybody else get irrationally annoyed when people say random words in Spanish when they’re addressing a Latino audience? It is possibly the most obnoxious “ally” behavior that I’ve ever experienced in my opinion.