Remarks by the First Lady at "Let's Move!" Chefs Event
12:40 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everyone. Good afternoon. So is it hot enough? (Laughter.) We planned this especially. Lots of sun, no breeze, got you in your whites and hats. We’re going to bring you out scarves and mittens and boots soon to make it really comfortable. (Laughter.)
But I -- we are just thrilled. I mean, I don't know if you can see yourselves, but I was looking out from the Residence and looking down at you all as you were spread over the South Lawn, and it was just a sight to behold. I have to say I wasn’t sure when I heard the goal of having nearly a thousand chefs on the South Lawn. I said, right, Sam, sure, whatever. (Laughter.) But you all pulled it off. And I am just so proud and honored to have you here at the White House.
I want to start by thanking Todd and Norah for sharing their stories, for the work that they’re doing at the Murch School. It’s just, you know, a wonderful example of the partnership that can be created. This is our hope for all of you -- to just spread out around the country and replicate what they have done. And we are just thrilled with the level of broad thinking and creativity that they’ve put into this work. And we want to see more of it happen.
And I also have to thank my partner in crime, Sam Kass, who has just been such an important part of promoting healthy eating, not just here at the White House, but helping to shape this initiative. And Sam has worked closely with so many staff members on the East Wing and in our kitchen, but we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have the knowledge and the passion if it weren’t for people like Sam who really understand your world; they understand and appreciate the value of cooking.
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. (Applause.)
Well, you’re all here for the same reason -- because you appreciate the power that food can have in our lives. And who would have thought food having power, other than just making us full? But it’s got a lot of power. You all know the enormous amount of care and the sense of pride that our farmers put into growing the food that nourishes the world. You have those relationships. You’ve seen it in action.
You know the joy of cooking for others, that passion that you get, the sense of camaraderie, the understanding and fulfillment that comes with seeing folks gathering around a dinner table, not just enjoying a meal, but enjoying fellowship. That is power.
You know the central role that food plays in the moments that make us happiest. Food is always there, whether it’s at a birthday party, or Thanksgiving dinner, or quiet moments with friends. Food is at the core of what makes life wonderful.
And you all know how the ingredients we put in our bodies can affect the way we feel, the way we think, and how we grow. This is especially true when we’re talking about our nation’s kids.
And you all know the statistics when it comes to the health of our kids -- and they're staggering, every time we talk about it -- how nearly one-third of children in this country are now overweight or obese. That's one in three. Just think about that. That means that these kids are at greater risk of obesity-related diseases -- you name them, cancer, heart disease, stroke.
And last year as a nation, we spent nearly $150 billion treating conditions like these. And if we don’t do something now, that number is just going to continue to increase as we see these children reach adulthood at an unhealthy weight. But what we do know is that none of us wants this kind of future for our kids. No one does. This is not what we had in mind. And we don't want this kind of future for our countries.
That’s why, earlier this year, we started “Let’s Move!” As you know, it’s been a national campaign with a very ambitious goal, which is to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that kids born today grow up with a totally different approach to eating and their health, and they grow up at a healthy weight with a wonderful appreciation for food and how to use it to tap into their power.
“Let’s Move!” is about making the changes that we need in several key ways. Number one, we’re working to get more information to parents so that they can make good choices for their kids. That's something that's always confusing as a mom: What do you feed your kids? How do you do it?
We need to do a better job at making sure that our parents know what’s best for their kids.
We’re working to make sure that families and communities across this country have access to quality affordable foods. You all know this. Millions of Americans are living in food deserts. They don’t have access to the kind of food that they need to live a healthy life. And we can’t begin to have this conversation about healthier living for our kids if their families don’t have access and can’t afford the foods that they need. (Applause.)
And we’re also working on the other end of the spectrum. There’s food, and there’s movement. That’s what the “Let’s Move!” piece is about. We need to make sure that our kids are getting the physical activity that they need to stay healthy. The recommendation is that kids get 60 minutes of active play every single day. And when we were growing up, that was just hanging out. (Laughter.) Now, it’s to save their lives.
But even as parents work to help their kids eat right and exercise at home, we also need to make sure that they have access to healthy meals at school. For many kids, that’s where they’re getting the vast majority of their calendars -- calories.
And I know that sometimes there’s a tendency to see money being spent on school nutrition as somehow taking away from what people think are the more important aspects of education like the curriculum or teacher salaries or school supplies. And with the average school being allotted about $2.68 for each meal they prepare -- $2.68, that’s it -- and of that, only $1.00, $1.25 of that money actually goes to the food itself -- I mean, you can imagine just how creative you have to be to make food interesting in the schools.
But the truth is that the food that our kids eat does have a direct effect on how they learn. That’s just the truth. So this isn’t a luxury. This isn’t a set-aside. This isn’t a sidebar. One recent study showed that kids who ate breakfast were more attentive. They had faster response times than kids who don’t. That’s learning.
And with more than 31 million children participating in the national school lunch and breakfast programs, good nutrition at school is more important than ever.
A major key to giving our children a healthy future will be to pass a strong child nutrition bill. (Applause.) And right now, the reauthorization bill is moving its way through Congress, and fortunately it has bipartisan support. Yay! (Applause.)
The Senate Agriculture Committee’s action on the bill this spring marks historic progress on this bill, and it’s vitally important that the Senate continues this effort and passes a bill in the coming weeks.
A majority of Senators and House Members from both parties have publicly called for swift passage of a robust proposal, and I urge Congress to provide the resources that we need to support these important programs. (Applause.)
It’s important that we keep the momentum going and we pass this bill this year. So we need all of your help. Everyone out there needs to focus on this. This is doable. It’s right there. But we’ve got to make it happen.
But if there’s one thing that we know for sure -- and that is that the solution to childhood obesity is not going to come from Washington alone. There is not one single expert that we’ve talked to that said that the solution to this problem is for government to tell people what to do. That just doesn’t work.
Instead, as we’ve said all this time, it’s going to take all of us -- it’s going to take all of us -- parents and teachers, community leaders, food manufacturers, all of us doing our part to give our children the healthy future they deserve.
And it’s going to take all of you, our nation’s chefs. That’s why I am so moved to see you all here. You all are at the heart of this initiative, because if anyone understands nutrition and food, it’s the folks sitting here in their whites today. I know what they’re called -- “whites.” (Laughter.) We tease Sam. We call them “blouses” just to make him mad. (Laughter.)
But each of you has so much to offer when it comes to helping our children make healthy choices. You know more about food than almost anyone -- other than the grandmas --and you’ve got the visibility and the enthusiasm to match that knowledge. That's really what’s key. Just watching you guys in action will -- it excites me, let alone my little girls who can’t stay out of the kitchen when Sam is cooking.
You can make a salad bar fun -- now, that’s something -- and delicious. You can teach kids to cook something that tastes good and is good for them; and share your passion for food in a way that’s truly contagious.
Let me tell you something. My mother didn’t know how to cook broccoli. 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. (Laughter.) 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.
But you guys can help change that. That's why we created the “Chefs Move to Schools” program, 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.
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. 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 -- (applause) -- 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.
Now I know that none of this is going to be easy. Nothing we do is. I think the very nature of living in this house means that the Easy Button has been taken away forever. (Laughter.) And it won’t happen overnight. That's for sure. You’re going to need to figure out what you’re up against. You’re going to need to take time to learn your communities, to understand your schools, to figure out how the school kitchen operates, to finding out what equipment is available -- because there are equipment limitations that have been an issue at some many schools -- and what kind of changes the school and the community can actually sustain. So it’s going -- there’s going to be a learning curve. So you’ve got to be patient and help people become patient with you.
But making our schools healthier isn’t just about what happens in the kitchen. As Norah said, it’s also about what kids learn in the classroom. And that’s why we’re also encouraging you to do things like put on cooking demonstrations; teach kids how to prepare meals at home. You can help start a cooking club, work with the teacher to integrate food into the lesson plan, like they’ve done at Murch, or help students plant a garden, if possible. All that stuff is a part of it. It’s not just about the work in the kitchen.
And with your help, our hope is that we’ll be able to double the number of schools in the Healthier US School Challenge. This is an innovative program that recognizes schools that are providing healthy foods and opportunities for kids to stay active. So there are just so many ways to get involved. And I know that many of you are already ahead of the game because you’re doing that right now. You’re here because you’re already doing it.
There are folks like Chef Toni Robertson, who, for the last three years, has helped students from the Mott Hall School in New York plant a vegetable garden and learn healthy eating habits -– even throwing salad parties for parents. That's a good thing.
There’s also Chef Seth Bixby Daugherty from Minnesota who has worked with -- yes, let’s give him a hand --(applause) -- who has worked with several schools across the country to design easy, healthy recipes that taste good and can be made with the equipment that schools already have.
Or there’s someone like Fernando Olea from Santa Fe, who teaches popular cooking classes for local students -- yay, Fernando -- (applause) -- showing them how to prepare healthy meals from his native Mexico.
In the end, it’s all about helping kids build healthy habits that are going to last a lifetime.
And many of you guys know about the White House Kitchen Garden. We’re going to go down there and harvest with our kids in a few minutes. But I still remember last year when we started the whole process, and we involved kids from local schools from the very beginning. They helped us till the soil. They helped us plant. They helped us weed. They helped us harvest. They ate. It was pretty powerful.
And several of the schools asked the kids to reflect in writing on their experience. And this is what helped us to know that we were onto something here. One of the students described herself as “a pretty regular fifth-grader who loves sweets.” And afterwards, she wrote that her time in the garden -- and this is a quote -- “has made me think about the choices I have with what I put in my mouth.” Hey -- winner! (Applause.)
Another child wrote that “It has inspired us to eat better and work harder.”
And one young man wrote, and this is a direct quote, “I think about the garden project as a model for being gentle: gentle with nature, gentle to your body, and gentle with each other. Now we need to remember and follow that model.” Isn’t that beautiful? (Applause.)
So ultimately, this is what we’re trying to do. And as you know, kids are so hungry. They will take it all in. They can change their habits, their taste buds, their approaches overnight. All they need is your encouragement, your enthusiasm, your passion, and your patience. And if we do this together -- and I know you guys are ready because you wouldn’t be sitting out here in those hats in the hot sun if you weren’t -- (laughter) -- we can change the future for our children and for this nation.
We are so grateful to you, so proud of the work that you’ve done, and we’re asking you to do more to recruit others. There are about a thousand of you here. We can triple that number. And that’s also part of your goal. We want you to reach out, find those who are less hesitant, who are a little afraid of kids, who are not sure about schools, and help bring them in. We’ve got to make these numbers grow because we want you all in every school in the nation. We want every school in the nation to have a chef partner, a set of kids who call you theirs, who believe that you care about nothing more than how they grow up and how they feel. The more grownups who are working on behalf of our kids, the stronger they’ll be.
So let’s move, let’s get this done. Thank you all for the work you’ve done. (Applause.) And I look forward to seeing you all in the months to come. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
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