RODALE NEWS, WASHINGTON, DC—Though first lady Michelle Obama had gathered 10 of us reporters for lunch at the White House Tuesday to mark the first anniversary of her “Let’s Move” campaign to end childhood obesity, her biggest surprise was some news about the President’s smoking. She confirmed rumors that have been circulating since December that Mr. Obama has, indeed, quit smoking. "It's been almost a year," she said, though she wasn’t quite sure when he stopped because: "When somebody's doing the right thing, you don't mess with them.
She added, "I haven't really poked and prodded him on this."
In the Old Family Dining Room, next to the State Dining Room in the middle of the White House, with a portrait of first lady Edith Wilson peering down on a table set with the green- and gold-bordered Truman china—and a crackling fire to take the chill off a very cold day—Mrs. Obama answered questions for about an hour. The discussion took place over a meal of very savory dishes that reflected healthy, but very flavorful, food that would make a healthy-eating convert out of almost anyone: we were served a salad of winter greens from the White House garden, a choice of pan-roasted rockfish or seared rack of lamb, and a key lime tart for dessert—all in suitably small portions. (Sound delicious? It was. Keep reading for the salad, fish, and tart recipes.)
One of the first questions was about the well-publicized White House menu for the Super Bowl, which included kielbasa, bratwurst, cheeseburgers, and deep-dish pizza. Was Mrs. Obama sending mixed messages?
Anyone who thinks that hasn’t really been listening. “My message has always been about balance," she said. "That’s why I like to talk about my obsession with french fries." She went on to explain her position: “If somebody came and said, ‘You can never have a hotdog or serve your child a slice of pizza,’ we’d never get a handle on this issue, because I think that's sometimes how people feel—that it’s all or nothing. And that's just not the case, and it’s not realistic."
Asked abut Sarah Palin’s criticism of her efforts to reduce childhood obesity, she gave the former vice-presidential candidate the brush-off: “I don’t think about her in this initiative." She made the point that Let's Move is not intended to be a political initiative. “I come at this not as a first lady, but as a mom," she said. "I mean, this was an issue I struggled with. And so did every single girlfriend that I had, and every single parent." While some Republican critics, such as Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, have claimed that Mrs. Obama is fostering a nanny state telling people how to eat, she counters with a reminder that the issue has widespread bipartisan support. Including that of one of the potential Republican nominees for president, Mike Huckabee “I don’t think there is anyone who really questions whether this is a real issue,” the first lady says.
When asked about it, she gives that kind of criticism short shrift, saying, “It’s nothing new. They are predictable. The criticism is true for anyone who occupies the White House. I just keep working. There is not a lot of time to reflect on criticism. My life is too busy.”
Her answer to her critics: “Let’s move.”