Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Michelle Obama Says She Is 'Not A Treat Hater' As She Recalls Grandfather's 'Legendary' Feasts

"Many of my best memories from childhood center around food," First Lady says, as she encourages Hispanic activists to re-think cultural food traditions...
New Orleans, LA - First Lady Michelle Obama assured an audience of Latino activists that she is "not a treat-hater" on Tuesday during her keynote address at the National Council of La Raza's Annual Conference.  

Speaking about her Let's Move! campaign and calling on the crowd of 1,800 to take on food corporations for their unhealthy practices, Mrs. Obama told a long story about her Grandfather's feasts during her childhood growing up on Chicago's South Side to make her point that she loves indulgent eating as much as any American.

"For me, many of my best memories from childhood center around food," Mrs. Obama said.  

"Because the truth is, for so many of us, food is love...It’s how we pass on our culture and our heritage as meals become family traditions and recipes are passed on from generation to generation."

Mrs. Obama was nostalgic as she ticked off the many foods her family enjoyed, including the "legendary barbecue" feasts created by her Grandfather, nicknamed 'Southside,' which lasted all day, only to be followed by another meal at 10:00 PM at night. 

It is the first time she has told the story during a speech about Let's Move!, and she mingled descriptions of her own family's beloved foods with those adored by the Hispanic community:  "In my community, it was mac and cheese at church dinner.  For you, it might have been arroz con gandules."  

And then, when the audience was drooling,  Mrs. Obama encouraged them to put aside old habits and instead feed their children healthier food. 

"We know better," Mrs. Obama said, calling obesity a complicated issue that mingles emotional issues with health policy and community action. 

"Times have changed, and the way we live and eat has to change, too," Mrs. Obama said.
 

"Now, that doesn’t mean doing away with the traditions that make us who we are.  Grandpa doesn’t have to forsake his ribs.  Abuela doesn’t have to stop making that tres leches that everyone loves.  Special occasions call for special foods.  And treats, children, are an important part of childhood.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a treat hater."  

It's time to change the emotional relationship with food to a healthier one, Mrs. Obama said.

"While food might be love, the truth is we are loving ourselves and our kids to death. We need to step up, we need to start questioning the behaviors and beliefs that are making our kids sick."   

The First Lady's foodie story from the full transcript of her remark

"More than anything else, how we raise and nourish our children is very much a family issue.  It’s very much a community issue.

"And see, that’s where it gets complicated, because that's where it gets personal and emotional.  Because the truth is, for so many of us, food is love.  (Laughter.)  I mean, it is no coincidence.  Applause for food is love.  (Applause.)  It is no coincidence that the kitchen is the central gathering place in so many of our homes.  And it’s no surprise that food is at the heart of so many of our family occasions.  Because whether we’re celebrating the good times or comforting each other in the bad times, food is how we knit our families together.  It’s how we pass on our culture and our heritage as meals become family traditions and recipes are passed on from generation to generation.  And by cooking for our loved ones, we show them how much we care about them, even when we can’t say it with words.

"And that was certainly true in my family when I was growing up.  My grandfather was an outstanding cook.  His barbecued ribs -- let me tell you, they were legendary.  (Laughter.)  We called my grandfather "Southside."  Why, because he lived on the South Side of Chicago.  (Applause.)  Simple.  We were creative like that.  (Applause.)  Southside’s home was the headquarters for every special occasion.  And my mom being one of seven children, you can imagine there was always some kind of special occasion going on -- birthday, anniversary, some achievement we were celebrating all the time.  So we were over at Southside’s just about every weekend, packed into his little house, eating those ribs for dinner -- talking and laughing, listening to jazz, playing cards late into the night.

"And then, when we could barely keep our eyes open, Southside would jump up and ask, “Anybody want cheeseburgers and milkshakes?”  He didn't want us to leave.  Then we’d have another full meal at 10, 11 o’clock at night.  So for me, many of my best memories from childhood center around food.

"And while we may have grown up in different communities with different cultures and traditions, I know that’s true for so many of you as well.  For me, it was Southside’s ribs.  Maybe for you it was Abuela’s tortillas or Tia’s arroz con pollo.  In my community, it was mac and cheese at church dinner.  For you, it might have been arroz con gandules.  (Applause.)  For us, Christmas meant a honey-baked ham.  For you, maybe it was tamales.  (Applause.)

"And I’m guessing that like me, some of you grew up in families that didn’t have a whole lot of money.  So you understand, like I do, that when you’re just getting by, sometimes food is all you’ve got.  So maybe you can’t afford that nice pair of sneakers or those music lessons that your kids are begging for, but maybe you can spring for a cheeseburger from the drive-thru or bake that favorite dessert.  In other words, when you always have to say no to your kids, sometimes it feels good to at least be able to say yes to food.

"And back when we were growing up, that way of life was actually sustainable, because while we may have eaten way too much Saturday or Sunday, Monday through Friday, we ate reasonably well, mainly because money was tight.  We couldn’t afford to have dessert with every meal.  You were not allowed to snack in between meals -- didn't have the money, didn't have the food.  More importantly, the meals themselves were pretty healthy.

"Think about those fresh greens and beans that were the foundation of southern cooking -- vegetables that often came straight from the garden.  Think about the fresh frutas that many of you grew up eating.  And on top of that, think about how active we all were back then -- running around all day, walking to and from school all day.  Yes, to the young people, we had to walk to school.  (Laughter.)  A lot of walking going on.  And we all had to attend P.E. classes that were required in school."


Mrs. Obama then pivoted to her call for change:
"Because times have changed, and the way we live and eat has to change, too.

"Now, that doesn’t mean doing away with the traditions that make us who we are.  Grandpa doesn’t have to forsake his ribs.  Abuela doesn’t have to stop making that tres leches that everyone loves.  Special occasions call for special foods.  And treats, children, are an important part of childhood.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm not a treat hater.  (Laughter.)  They matter for adults as well. 

"For example, I eat a balanced diet and I work out every single day of the week with very few exceptions.  But let me tell you something, while I am here in New Orleans today -- (laughter) -- everyone understand there is no way I am leaving this city without a good meal.  No way.  Not happening.  (Applause.)

"We don’t have to completely deprive ourselves to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Instead, it’s about striving for balance and moderation, doing our best to eat right and stay active in between the special occasions.  And it’s about empowering families with the information and resources they need to make healthy choices for their kids."  


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The First Lady's visit to New Orleans also included a tour of Sterling Farms grocery market, owned by actor Wendell Pierce, a star of the HBO series The Wire and Treme.  The outing was not listed on Mrs. Obama's official schedule. 

*Pool photo