While the mainstream media has tried to distract us with vacation photos and talk of fashion, our First Lady has been instrumental in passing a piece of legislation with the potential to save the lives of more US citizens than the recent health care bill: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. After narrowly clearing a Senate scheduling hurdle, the bill passed through unanimous consent, meaning that there was complete agreement by all 100 senators and therefore no need for a vote.
This is a phenomenal, wonderful piece of news. It is a sure sign that Washington is waking up to the fact that it is past time to act to ensure the health of our children. It means that the stranglehold that Coca-Cola, Frito Lay and other factory-food peddlers have had on generations of our youth is beginning to weaken. And it means that Michelle Obama has been successful at one of her guiding missions, vocalized since the beginning of her husband’s presidency: conveying to children a message of health, nutrition and self-sufficiency as well as an appreciation for the role of agriculture in everyday life.
In Spring of 2009, the First Lady helped to plant a garden at Bancroft Elementary School in Washington DC. Over the next few months, the students were able to observe the growth of the vegetables and fruits they planted and, most importantly, to taste the literal fruits of their labor. Being that I just tasted my first home-grown tomato, planted not more than 20 feet from where I lay my head at night, I can imagine how wondrous that process was for these children. What a gift to have the First Lady come to a somewhat challenged school to teach them about gardening, when so many appearances are about face time and generic advice. She gave them skills that can improve their health and their lives.
I surely don’t need to tell any of you about the price of food, which is only climbing. I also don’t need to roll out any numbers on childhood obesity, although you can read them here if you like. And we know the extent to which children are mercilessly targeted by corporations ready to sell them the most insidious products imaginable.
Yet even in the face of many challenges, communities across the nation are taking the reins and demanding higher quality food for their children. The success stories are uplifting, myth-busting and an indicator of what citizens can do when confronted with corporate trickery. Junk food manufacturers point to in-school vending machines as important cash generators for sports and arts programs. Very clever to push the fear button, and to make us feel obligated to choose between money and the health of our kids. Scumbags. In reality, the Kentucky program debunked the manufacturers’ claims: when juices and crackers replaced sodas and chips, vending sales increased. Ha!
Fellow citizens, we are at a crucial point in our collective health, and if we can start protecting our children from the hazards of factory food and empty calories, maybe we grown-ups can learn a bit and take a few less trips through the fast-food lines ourselves. It is a process, and one we can absolutely achieve, step by step.
Food is not a product. It is a necessity for life. This is not a partisan issue; no committee need be set up to discern whether or not Republicans like to eat. Without real food, containing nutrients, vitamins and minerals, we perish. This new legislation is a wonderful advance and confirms that we may now put even more pressure on government entities to make health-conscious choices for our kids. Most importantly, it is time to push back against the corporations that put our children at incredible peril in order to make a fast buck.