February 9, 2012
Michelle Obama landed at the Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas on the second stop of her four-state tour to announce a new initiative to upgrade the quality of food at military bases.
Now attired in a charcoal-grey suit, a red brooch, and patent-leather flats (she had worn a striped knit top and slacks at the rally in Iowa), Mrs. Obama was briefed by AF officers about how the base was upgrading its menus with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Little Rock is one of six bases that are testing a pilot program to serve healthier food (the program is being expanded to seven more bases). The staff said the new offerings were great for business, bringing in more soldiers and military families.
The “food transformation initiative,” the first lady was told, depends not only on providing healthier food, but changing the eating habits of service people.
Mrs. Obama perked up at the mention of both an upgraded “cold” and “sizzling” salad bar (with stir-fry vegetables and the like).
Mrs. Obama asked how eating habits affected service readiness (DoD estimates that nearly a quarter of Americans between 17 and 24 are too overweight for basic training).
“I’d love to hear a bit about what you all are seeing over this particular generation,” she said.
The staff told her that the military had made strides in promoting better fitness among recruits, and was now focusing on healthier food.
Brigadier Gen. Eden Murrie, director of Air Force Services, told FLOTUS that “we are working hard to make healthy sexy.”
Turning to the economic implications, Mrs. Obama said, “A lot of people think eating healthy costs more. But time and again, the military has shown that you can do both.”
Later, Obama was given a tour of the dining facility, where staff members showed her an array of fresh fruit cups and a plentiful salad bar.
Mrs. Obama then moved into an adjacent dining hall, where she was greeted by airmen and women seated at rectangular tables. They were staring warily at half-eaten plates of greens, broccoli, and slices of chicken. Each had a bottle of water.
The dining hall was the site for DoD’s announcement that it would upgrade menus across the armed forces for the first time in 20 years. DoD said it spends $1.4 billion a year on weight-related health problems for active and retired service people.
Addressing the group, Mrs. Obama said, “Thank you for eating your vegetables. We need you strong.”
“This is a big day,” she said of the DoD commitment to new menu standards. “This isn’t just a drop in the bucket. This is a big splash.”
Obama noted that obesity is not just a public-health problem, but a national-security problem. She said the military could set an example for the country in healthier eating habits.
“When you make healthy eating a priority in your lives,” she said. “The rest of us are more likely to make it a priority in our lives.”
After speaking, Mrs. Obama shook hands and spoke briefly with many of the soldiers. Pool was out of earshot of most of the exchanges, but did hear Obama tell one airman, “Don’t worry; you’ll be a vegetable guy soon.”