Dear Michelle . . . .

Dear Michelle,

Can I call you “Michelle?”  I know it’s a bit presumptuous, what with you being First Lady and all, but for the last six years you and I have shared a beautiful friendship, one that’s no less special for being entirely one-sided.

We have so much in common, Michelle, it’s no wonder we’re one-way BFFs!  We’re both lawyers who changed careers in our 40s (though you do your current job in designer clothes and I often do mine in pajamas), we both have lawyer husbands (putting aside that yours is also leader of the free world) and we both have teenagers at home (not easy, right?).

I love that you were confident enough to wear blue nail polish at the Democratic National Convention and a J. Crew sweater to 10 Downing Street.  I love that you took a chance on bangs and then were willing to admit regret (who hasn’t been there?).  I love that even after six years in the White House you still seem totally real, unafraid to break into a little Mom Dancing or Double Dutch when the occasion calls for it.  And who cares if it was a breach of protocol to put your arm around the Queen?  You’re not a British subject — and, let’s face it, that woman looks seriously in need of a hug.

But what I love most about you is that you’ve made kids and healthy eating — the topic closest to my heart – one of the centerpieces of your tenure as First Lady.

Sure, you’ve had your share of critics – people who say Let’s Move! hasn’t done enough and that you’ve been intimidated by the food industry — but I remain grateful for all you have been able to accomplish, whether it’s nudging Disney toward a junk food ad ban or brokering a creative licensing deal between the Sesame Street Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association.  I recognize that there’s only so much anyone could do in this area from the East Wing, so I’ve praised you as a “savvy pragmatist” who “push[es] for reforms only where there are clear openings and likely pay-offs.”  In other words, I’ve had your back, like any good friend would.

But I have to admit, Michelle, even I wasn’t quite sure we’d hear from you when some in Congress and the School Nutrition Association recently began a concerted assault on your major achievement as First Lady – the 2010 passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA).  You’re such a polarizing figure in the school food debate (did you see Michelle Malkin’s latest rant? “Hell hath no fury like a Nanny State control freak scorned”) that I could see you reluctantly deciding it’s better to work from behind the scenes, like your recent off-the-record conference call with supporters, or making calls last week to help forge some compromises in the Senate appropriations process.

But I was so wrong!  Yesterday, at a White House meeting with school nutrition leaders, you made headlines by giving what’s being called “one of the most overtly political speeches during [your] tenure as First Lady.”  In a full-throated defense of healthier school food, in which you spoke both as First Lady and a concerned mother, you said attempts to weaken school food standards are “unacceptable,” and you “slammed” House Republicans for “playing politics” with our kids’ health.  You vowed to do what’s necessary to stay the course, telling those in the room that “We have to be willing to fight the hard fight now.” 

BRAVO, Michelle!

Now that I know you’re unafraid to get overtly political, I’m hoping that speech was just the start of a big public relations campaign to defend healthier school food.  Because even though you and I follow this issue closely, I’m betting the majority of parents still  think improved school food is a done deal (thanks to you), and have no clue that the nutritional improvements on their kids’ lunch trays are at risk. Or, even if they know what’s going on, they’re not sure how to express their displeasure about it.

Here are a few ideas I’ve had – some crazier than others, I’ll admit — to fire up the school food base:

  • I would love to see you on daytime talk shows and late night television speaking out about these attempts to weaken school nutritional standards. I’m thinking of shows like The View or Katie — we already know Katie Couric would be totally on board, based on her new film, “Fed Up.”  One word from you on shows like that, and the number of calls to Congressional reps from angry parents would go up exponentially.
  • OK, this one’s a little out there, but what about a  “Save School Lunch” march on the National Mall? Seriously, Michelle, just say the word and I’m on the next plane to D.C. with my vintage lunch tray in hand to march alongside you. And even regular parents (not just crazy school food advocates like me) would likely come out for a march if you added some celebrity speakers to the lineup.  I know we can both think of a lot of big names who would willingly support such a cause, especially if the invitation came from you.
  • Too ambitious?  What about a “virtual march” where you ask people to submit photos of themselves and their kids, holding up a sign asking to Save School Lunch?  If you ask, maybe people will do it and if the numbers are high enough, it could make some noise on Capitol Hill.
  • Or how about creating a YouTube video that’s a little out of the box?  After all, 18.5 million people tuned into YouTube to see the Evolution of Mom Dancing.  What if you did something equally engaging, but ended with a call to action in support of healthier school food?  (I’ll admit I’m not quite able to visualize the funny dance that goes with school food reform, but that’s where your team of highly paid PR experts comes in.)

Even if you do none of those things, though, I want to thank you for yesterday’s statement.  For those of us who stood with you and fought with you during the passage of the HHFKA, it would have been disheartening (though understandable, in my opinion) if you’d decided to wage this battle quietly and out of the public eye.

But maybe you’re laughing out loud right now, Michelle, because we’re totally having one of those BFF mind-melds and you were already planning on doing a lot of the PR stuff I suggest above.

That sort of thing wouldn’t be at all surprising in an imaginary friendship as beautiful as ours.

— Bettina

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