Michelle Obama, vegetables and food-Nazis

Nagging people about food doesn't make them eat better; it only gives them indigestion.

NATCHITOCHES, La. — The American people have been told to eat more vegetables. Michelle Obama has made healthy eating her priority as first lady, even starting her own little farm on the White House grounds (not unlike Marie Antoinette’s toy dairy farm at Versailles).

The FLOTUS hands out her bounty as gifts to visiting heads of state. Those food baskets are undoubtedly more popular than the iPod loaded with his greatest speeches that President Obama gave to Queen Elizabeth, but heads of state probably agree with the rest of us – we’d rather eat cake.

If we must be fed vegetables, remember; everything tastes better fried. If Marie Obama wants heads of state to eat their vegetables, she should serve them as chips, preferably with a high-fat dip and the bribe of an eclaire.

I really do love vegetables, especially squash, corn, black beans and asparagus. I love to cook and I do it well.  My wife loves my carrot, broccoli and red pepper lasagna, a delicious and beautiful dish. It’s also very fussy. I spend hours cleaning, dicing and blanching the vegetables and putting them together with the sauces and herbs that make them taste so good. Because face it, broccoli on its own just isn’t that good. Carrots are nice to munch on, but not as nice as brownies. When plain vegetables aren’t outright disagreeable, they’re often boring. If we only needed to eat an ounce or two every day, that would be bearable, but we’ve been told to eat piles of the stuff, four servings a day.

I’m not concerned that food-Nazis are going to show up at my door, saying, “ve haf vays ofe feeding you prrroduce.” Given the campaigns against cigarettes, saturated fats and soda-pop, I’m not blind to potential trouble, though. The zealots may not force me to eat vegetables, but they might slap taxes on the good stuff. They might reduce my consumption options, thus forcing up my food costs. There’s a movement afoot to change the way eggs are produced and drive up costs. The ostensible reasons are consumer safety and happier chickens, but food zealots are like Meryl Streep, convinced that everyone should buy alar-free organic apples at thrice the price on our tiny little regular-people incomes.

I pay close attention to prices at the supermarket and to the things other shoppers buy. My fellow Wal Mart shoppers buy a lot of frozen processed food. It’s not as nutritious as the fresh ingredients I put in my basket, but I’ll admit that it takes a lot of work to make my basket of fresh spinach taste as good to my kids as their baskets of frozen pizza would right out of the box, ice crystals and all. (And I’ll also admit that I lied to my kids for years, putting protein powder in the Nestle’s Quick can and telling them it was chocolate milk. Parenthood is an ethical disaster for some of us.) All the nagging in the world from desiccated intellectuals and Queen Michelle won’t change the fact that we don’t have personal chefs, we don’t want to spend our lives in the kitchen, we don’t have unlimited wealth, and we crave food that tastes good. (Oh, Lord, what I wouldn’t do for some fried chicken and biscuits right now, and keep your nasty green beans unless you smother them with bacon and cheese!)

It’s good to be reminded from time to time that we should eat better than we do. If the FLOTUS and her minions stop there, fine, but when they start feeling coercive about it, they should note that there’s a reason that people with money eat healthier than people without it: They can afford to. The one who really has to fix the problem of poor nutrition isn’t FLOTUS, but POTUS. Fix the economy, Mr. President, and spare us your wife’s nagging. Give me a healthy economy and I’ll give you some wealthy organic produce farmers. Give me a recession and I’ll give you people stressed out over buckets of ice-cream. As they say, it isn’t better education about food; it’s the economy, stupid.

James Picht teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La. From the age of 6, he always knew what he wanted to be. Economist wasn’t it. But after accidentally falling in to it, he found that he liked it. Now he also likes raising his two children, being a husband to Lisa and taking pictures of trees in the middle of the night. He thinks there’s no vegetable that doesn’t taste good with bacon and cheese, but the bacon and cheese often taste even better without the vegetables. His favorite way to eat fruit is in a pie.

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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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