I understand there was some sort of major sporting event thing last Sunday before the new episode of Glee aired. Not really sure what that was all about, but apparently it was important enough that the President threw a party for it at the White House. As often happens with these type of things, the media reported every bit of minutiae they could get their hands on. One of those rather trivial things was the list of foods served at said party.
Looking at that menu, it seems a fairly typical party menu. In fact, according to the article in the link, it was specifically designed to feature foods from the two states that were playing against each other in said sporting event. That’s actually a pretty smart way to theme a menu, in my opinion. If this was served at your next door neighbors barbecue, you’d likely be pretty happy about it. (Yes, of course there are exceptions, one size never fits all. But I think a majority of people would find something they’d enjoy eating.)
But this was served in the Obama White House. And Michelle Obama is a spokesperson in the fight against childhood obesity. So how did I find out about it? Someone posted an article about it (not actually the one I linked to) to Facebook, with a comment saying, “Michelle Obama, don’t tell me what I should feed my kids when you feed yours this crap.”
Over on the Slacktivist blog, we have a phrase for comments like this. It is “fractally wrong”. There are so many points that are wrong about this comment, it is hard to even know where to start. But I’ll see what I can do.
1. Michelle Obama has never tried to tell anyone what to feed their kids. She has made general recommendations, none of which are particularly controversial. Eat more fruits and vegetables, reduce portion sizes, stop drinking sugary drinks. These are things I hear from my doctor/dentist at every visit, and I figure most other people do as well. And no one complains. We take the advice or we don’t. Heck, I heard more from Michelle Obama explaining about the menu because of these kinds of stupid criticisms, than I have over the past several months about it, so it isn’t like she’s been all in everyone’s face about it, either. (Unlike some previous first ladies and their causes.)
2. One of the dogwhistles in this comment is the “Don’t tell me what to do”, which implies that the first lady is trying to legislate her recommendations. This is absurd. No legislation has been put forth in the country to mandate what people eat. In fact, compared to other countries, we have very few food regulations, and those we do have are in the interests of public safety (and many of those are inadequate, which is why we have food-related disease outbreaks every so often again.) Regardless of what Fox News and their ilk like to espouse, no one is planning to force you to buy free-range chickens, soybeans or tofu. No elementary school has outlawed cookies. No one is going to go through your kitchen and fine you if you have unhealthy foods.
3. A Super Bowl party is a special occasion. It is not every day. If this menu was Michelle Obama’s weekly grocery list, maybe there would be a justifiable criticism here. Unless your health is in imminent danger (and this is true in some cases), indulging every once in a while is good for you. It gives you something to look forward to, which makes it easier to eat healthier at other times (Yeah, I should probably have the salad now instead of the cheesesteak, but next week is my birthday, so I can have cake!)
I mean, we can argue for days and pages about whether childhood obesity is as big of a problem as it is being made out to be, or whether the metrics for obesity are useful, or any number of other points. But does anyone really think that “kids should eat healthier and parents should encourage that” is a bad message? I mean, it can be if accompanied by either an explicit or implicit “you are a bad parent and your child is a bad person because they are fat”, but I can’t say I’ve seen Michelle Obama do this. I am willing to be corrected, if someone shows that she does engage in this kind of guilt-tripping, fat-shaming behavior.
Seriously, I feel that if Michelle Obama had take up Nancy Reagan’s old cause, we’d have a drug culture in the US that hasn’t been seen since the ’60s. Or if she took up Barbara Bush’s cause, we’d be hearing that teaching kids to read is subversive and undermines democracy.
This needs to stop. Really. It is actually in the Conservatives’ best interest to stop it. Here’s the thing. Many people see this type of thing for what it is: an attempt to demonize and create attacks on strawmen who don’t exist. Do it often enough, and it undermines your entire message. People who know what you are doing will stop paying attention to what you say, because of it. And if you DO have a valid point to make, it gets lost in the buzz, and no one hears it.
Case in point: health care reform. There were a lot of sound, justifiable criticisms of the new health care law. The thing was, we didn’t hear them. Why? Because Conservatives kept talking about non-existent “death panels” and how a public option would be the end of democracy as we know it and that we could couldn’t do anything like Canada’s health care system because it is SO terrible. All of these things (and many other things that were said) were verifiably false, and anyone who thought about it for 5 minutes knew they were false. So we stopped paying attention. Maybe if they had focused on actual shortcoming of the bill, solutions could have been found, and we’d have had a stronger bill.
But then, maybe that’s asking too much. Right now, if anyone with the last name Obama started volunteering for the Anti-Kitty Burning Association, felines in every Republican household would be in danger. If Republicans and Conservatives would stop automatically opposing everything the President (or his family) does, we could make the world a whole lot brighter, we could make the load a little lighter. Ya know?