Many Americans think Michelle Obama did a stellar job as First Lady—evidently including Michelle Obama herself. Last week, she joined former White House chef turned chief sycophant Sam Kass to trade compliments on how together they transformed the way common Americans eat.
Speaking at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Mrs. Obama’s trotted out stale material (“Malia was so sad to see her Kraft Mac-n-Cheese getting thrown out!”) while Kass told his own stories about his proximity to the royal family and relished Mrs. Obama’s explanation that he had enlightened and encouraged them to rid their kitchen of the lower class horror of “processed foods.”
Mrs. Obama, expanding on her familiar and now very tired mac-n-cheese story, explained how she soothed the troubled first daughter by assuring her that mac-n-cheese can still be eaten, but it has to be made from scratch. Then, without a hint of irony, she revealed a rather important detail: she wasn’t the one doing the cooking. That was Kass’ job.
That interesting nugget of information came after Kass asked Mrs. Obama to look back on those tough days as a working mom, just before and after Obama was elected to the Senate. As a reminder, that was when Mrs. Obama was earning over a quarter million dollars working at a Chicago hospital while also serving on the board of a large food company (that produces processed foods). Senator Obama was also receiving considerable royalties from his book Dreams From My Father.
While most Americans who struggled to make ends meet during the Obama presidency might assume that life was pretty good in the Obama’s household even before he ascended to the Oval Office, Michelle wasn’t so sanguine, saying instead that life was hard. She was traveling a lot, Barack wasn’t home, and she was helping with the campaign. Luckily, she had Kass by her side who, she admitted, was hired as the family’s personal chef.
While I’m sure all moms would love to come home, kick off their high heels, and sit down with their families to a chef-prepared meal, most simply don’t have such luxuries. Instead, normal moms just want to produce something quickly (like those “processed foods” Mrs. Obama so loves to hate—boxed mac-n-cheese, frozen chicken nuggets, canned fruit cocktail, rotisserie chicken, canned soup) so that they can actually have a conversation with their kids, help them with homework, give them baths and put them to bed. You know, mom things, rather than preparing the homemade béchamel sauce and grating a block of organic Vermont cheddar that will eventually be folded into the just-boiled elbow macaroni and then baked for a half hour. Yay! Dinner served at 9pm!
In Mrs. Obama’s world it’s easy to produce homemade baked noodle dishes when you have Sam Kass doing all the work.
Eventually moving past her own troubled and difficult time as an upper middle class mom with a staff, supportive husband, and thriving career, Mrs. Obama went on to praise the food industry for cutting calories in foods. That is indeed an accomplishment and the companies as well as the organization that coordinated these calorie reductions—The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation—deserve praise. Yet, Mrs. Obama might also reflect on the fact that the food industry makes a practice of responding to consumer demands.
One of the demands moms have made for the last several decades (as women have returned to the workforce in droves) is to have more, not less, of what Mrs. Obama likes to pejoratively call “processed food.” Busy moms and dads usually call these foods by another name—convenience foods, because these products help parents produce healthy meals in a short amount of time.
Mrs. Obama means well and there’s no doubt that she’s had a transformative impact on the nation’s eating habits—some of it good and much of it bad. But she needs to remember what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about the very rich: “They are different from you and me.” Michelle Obama is different from you and me.
Which is why most normal parents would do well to ignore her advice.