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Michelle Obama Recruiting Chefs to Childhood Anti-Obesity Drive

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The most powerful tool first lady Michelle Obama has in her childhood anti-obesity campaign is the bully pulpit and she used it Friday, urging professional chefs to volunteer in schools. She delivered the message with hundreds of chefs in white jackets gathered before her on the South Lawn of the White House under a broiling sun.

Afterward, Mrs. Obama moved to the White House garden along with some of the chefs -- including celebrity cooker Rachel Ray, "Top Chef" host Tom Colicchio and the Food Network's Cat Cora -- and a few dozen students to pick homegrown produce. The garden is going gangbusters after being planted on March 31 for the 2010 summer season. Marcus Samuelsson, the guest chef for the White House state dinner honoring the prime minister of India last year, also joined in, helping students in the garden.

Presiding over the mini-harvest and serving as master of ceremonies at the chef event was Sam Kass, 30, whose celebrity is growing faster in his dual role as a White House chef and food initiative coordinator than the garden's vegetables.

Michelle Obama with chefsMrs. Obama dates her interest in food policy and healthy eating to discussions she had with Kass, who worked for the Obamas' as their personal chef in Chicago when President Barack Obama was a U.S. senator and Mrs. Obama was an executive at the University of Chicago Hospitals and also a board member at TreeHouse Foods.

Speaking to the chefs about the importance of healthy eating Mrs. Obama said, "This has been a long conversation that Sam and I have had over the years, and I think it's just pretty powerful to see what started out as a few conversations in our kitchen on the South Side of Chicago turn into a major initiative that hopefully will change the way we think as a country, not just about the health of our kids but about our health as a nation."

The several hundred chefs at the White House for the event were recruited with the help of a non-profit, "Share Our Strength," financed by the food industry and American Express. On Friday morning, Kass and Education Secretary Arne Duncan told chefs how they can make a difference in schools at a "Share Our Strength" briefing.

Mrs. Obama started her "Let's Move" drive to end childhood obesity within a generation last February. For years, however, the federal government has tried out a variety of ideas run through the Department of Agriculture to encourage healthier eating in schools. During the Clinton administration, the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service created an Internet database where chefs could submit their names as potential advisers to help school nutritionists.

The chefs-and-schools program launched in the 1990s only attracted about 150 chefs to the register, USDA Deputy Press Secretary Justin Dejong told Politics Daily.

That website never turned into an active tool. A few weeks ago, the site was relaunched as the "Chefs Move to Schools" program. Within days, 990 chefs and 488 schools signed up, Dejong said. "Today's event was to highlight an existing tool (taken) to a new level and leverage more modern technology," Dejong said.

Mrs. Obama's bully pulpit can bring "new energy to an old program," Dejong said, making connections much easier.

"That's why we created the "Chefs Move to Schools" program," Mrs. Obama told the chefs on the South Lawn, "to pair chefs like you with interested schools in your local communities. And together, you'll be helping students learn where food comes from, and develop healthy habits. You'll be elevating the role of food in our schools, and working to create healthy meals on a budget."

Mrs. Obama was careful not to step on the toes of school cooks, dietitians and school nutritionists. Last March, she spoke to the School Nutrition Association, meeting in Washington, and praised the work of their professionals. "Our kids don't stop learning at lunch time. Every day with the food you serve you're teaching them these critical lessons about nutrition and healthy eating," Mrs. Obama said.

On Friday, she suggested gently that the chefs shouldn't go into schools and try to take charge.

"Now, just like you wouldn't be thrilled if someone came in your restaurant and told you what to do, we're not asking you guys to go into school kitchens and take over," she said. "And that's an important point to make.

"Our school food service professionals who are out there, they have dedicated their careers to helping our children grow up healthy and happy. They work long hours and they stretch budgets to the limit, often with no recognition at all. And their advice has been so invaluable as we've tried to identify areas where schools can improve and become more efficient. So they deserve our respect and our admiration, and I want to take the time now to thank them for their service and for their hard work.

"That's why we're asking you, when you go into the schools, to work closely with our food service professionals to support the work that they do every day, in and out, long hours. They're looking forward to getting some extra help -- they need it -- doing everything from teaching basic cooking skills in the cafeteria to encouraging healthy choices in the lunch line. So they're going to need your support, but it's got to be a collaboration. And we strongly encourage you all to go in with that spirit."

The "Chefs Move" branding is consistent with other components of Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" project. The latest, "Let's Move Outside," was rolled out last Tuesday at Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas, where she appeared with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

The chefs project is a small piece of the big picture -- getting better food into schools.

In the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report, issued last month -- the main policy document for Mrs. Obama's anti-obesity campaign -- a variety of recommendations were made for schools, from growing gardens to getting rid of deep fryers and adding salad bars in cafeterias. Recognizing that public money is hard to find for school kitchen upgrades, the task force suggested that "private companies that manufacture this equipment, companies that benefit from the sales of healthier products, and philanthropic partners should explore ways to make these items more affordable for schools."

Meanwhile, Congress is still working on reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act, which covers the National School Lunch, School Breakfast and Summer Food Service Programs. Last updated in 2004, the law expired on Sept. 30, 2009; Congress extended it through this September.

Mrs. Obama said, "Aa major key to giving our children a healthy future will be to pass a strong child nutrition bill. And right now, the reauthorization bill is moving its way through Congress, and fortunately it has bipartisan support. Yay!"

FOOTNOTE: Mrs. Obama dished on how her mother, Marian Robinson, prepared broccoli when she was a kid.

"Let me tell you something. My mother didn't know how to cook broccoli," Mrs. Obama said. "It was watery and mushy, and that's what we thought broccoli was. We thought you could eat it with a spoon and cut it with a knife. And I know a lot of parents out there cooking broccoli like that. It makes it hard to like broccoli if that's how you're cooking it."
Tagged: chef, nutrition

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Really Great thought!! Obese children need a thorough medical evaluation by a pediatrician or family physician  to consider the possibility of a physical cause.  In the absence of a physical disorder, the only way to lose weight is to reduce the number of calories being eaten and to increase the child's or adolescent's level of physical activity.  Lasting weight loss can only occur when there is self-motivation.  Since obesity often affects more than one family member, making healthy eating and regular exercise a family activity can improve the chances of successful weight control for the child or adolescent.

October 21 2010 at 5:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great piece. The only suggestion I have (and this comes with a lot of love, since I made this mistake in a cover letter): "Rachel Ray" is actually "Rachael Ray"...

June 09 2010 at 12:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is wonderful. Visit the and watch Michelle's video. Watch as she gets out in the garden with the kids. Great job by a wonderful First Lady!

Thank you for caring about all our kids.

June 07 2010 at 7:34 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

All this is hogwash. I will continue to do what I think is best for my family. It must be working because we are all thin.

Haven't allowed my kids to have school lunches. I'm sure they are awful, but there is no law saying you must make your kids eat there. Why do parents allow it? Making a fruit cup, 1/2 a sandwich and carrot sticks is easy. It takes all of 5 mins.

June 07 2010 at 11:58 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply

Its a plus, to see someone taking an active interest in the U.S.'s, biggest social problem. For too long, the school systems lunch menu's have been not up tp par on reaching the RDR for nutrition and development.
Getting Chef's involved in the process is a great step in correcting an age old problem. I only wish we had this 50 yrs ago, when I was in school.
Good luck for a swuccessful future. Grow your own is a great start to a healthy life style.

June 07 2010 at 8:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People are still losing jobs..................It has been proven over and over and over that when you cut taxes - not raise them for just another Government Entitlement Program (which is exactly what this Chefs in Schools idea will become) - jobs are created because those who are in business can then afford to hire more people..................This administration is out of touch with just how bad this economy is..............Worrying about what children eat in school cafeterias does pretty much nothing to solve any economic problem that this country has and makes those who can't even afford peanut butter and jelly feel even worse about not being able to feed their chidren expensive organic food..........YOu can't worry about expensive organic food when you are wondering if you will even have a few extra dollars for food or you are having to use food stamps to put food on the table...............It is a noble cause - but the wrong cause to be focused on at the wrong time!

June 06 2010 at 11:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Show a kid how to maintain a garden and a wood burning stove. That would cure childhood obesity. The only problem is, that stuff ain't in style. It never has been. People did it in the past to survive. SURVIVING these days is not very labor intensive. The "child obesity problem" proves this. That's "life in the big city" I guess. "GIVE A MAN A FISH, YOU FEED HIM ONCE. SHOW A MAN HOW TO FISH, HE'S FED FOR LIFE." Everyone needs to experience life without electricity. At least long enough to, never again, take it for granted. Sounds pretty "trailer park" huh? Oh yeah! You can show somebody something, but the rest is up to the somebody. Right?

June 06 2010 at 9:57 PM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

It is great to see an intelligent woman take up a cause as great as the health of our next generation. Granted, Michelle Obama could do something other as the voice of the First Lady at the White House, but to take this on, is a very important task for our future (all of our generations future.. they will be paying our bills). If Congress would get on board and fund healthy meals for our next generation, and cut through the local school boards paperwork about what they buy and feed our next generation, then America will be all the stronger for it. Congress.. cut through the red tape, and to all of our all American States, cut through the red tape, and let's feed our next generation properly at the schools which they are learning at.

June 06 2010 at 9:37 PM Report abuse -10 rate up rate down Reply

I understand that childhood onesity is a problem, but why can't Michele Obama also help the disabled of America by pushing to get Congress to fix the federal law ERISA which allows iinsurance companies to rip off the disabled and retired because the law has no rules or regulations in these regards and basically can do what they want. Go to youtube and see the video's by disabledvictim and learn how you or a loved one can become this laws next victim because no one cares.

June 06 2010 at 5:46 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply

Photo op, Photo op, Doctors and Chefs do not wear their uniforms outside of work due to germs and cross-contamination. Politicians think everybody is stupid.

June 06 2010 at 3:10 PM Report abuse +17 rate up rate down Reply

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