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September 4 2012

The Grocery Scold

Julie Gunlock

Earlier today, I praised the First Lady for offering the American public useful advice on how to shop at the grocery store.  Her guidance provided individuals, not the government, the power to make good food decisions. Bravo!

Well, I was snapped back to reality when I read about a Parade Magazine interview with the First Lady in which they asked what she hopes to accomplish in her second term (I kinda love how they say “second term” like she’s elected to office and has these major policy issues to tackle). 

Regaining her love of regulation, the First Lady responded with a predictable goal: she wants to "impact the nature of food in grocery stores" with the aim of cutting sugar, fat and salt.  Translation: If you don’t comply with my super-helpful grocery store shopping advice, I’ll simply push to regulate the holy heck out of grocery stores so that the products of which I disapprove (salty snacks, high-fat foods, soda and sugary drinks) are no longer available.

But, is this news? Is it a shocking admission? Not if you’ve been listening to the White Houses’ messaging on food for the past several years—particularly to Michelle Obama’s statements on how the government has an important role in “guiding” Americans toward better eating and how that guidance might just include the regulation of businesses—like grocery stores, food manufacturers and restaurants.

Let’s take a look back:       

  • Speaking at a meeting of the Grocery Manufacturers Association in March 2010, Mrs. Obama told food makers they should “entirely rethink the products that you're offering." That’s right, companies should completely change products that are taste good and are popular with consumers to satisfy the government. That sounds like a super recipe for business success!
  • About grocery stores, in 2010, the First Lady said, “We can build shiny new supermarkets on every block, but we need those supermarkets to actually provide healthy options at prices people can afford.” Yes, this would be a great quote if indeed it was true that grocery stores don’t already stock healthy food at low prices but then, one suspects Michelle Obama hadn’t done much shopping in the past decade (let’s not forget, she had a personal chef in Chicago before heading to the White House).
  • Of course, the First Lady has some support in the food industry.  For example, Wal-Mart—the county’s largest grocery store chain--was more than happy to make a deal; agreeing to lower the salt and sugar content in their house products as well as requiring all suppliers to reformulated sodium and sugar levels in their products in order to be stocked in a Wal-Mart store. Of course, Wal-Mart was smart to acquiesce to White House pressure; after all, the super store was eager to expand into urban areas (a move usually blocked by big labor and liberal community activist organizations) and the First Lady’s efforts to reduce food deserts was the perfect foil (never mind that food deserts don’t really exist).
  • Restaurants have also been in the Obama Administration’s crosshairs.  From the menu labeling requirements included in Obamacare (which is already causing difficulty for some restaurants) to the First Lady’s criticism of serving sizes and of particular ingredients (like salt and sugar) and menu items, restaurants have been dealing with a hostile and hyper regulatory administration at a time when the economy is keeping customers away.  Of course, Darden Restaurants who endorsed Michelle Obama’s “suggestions” for smaller portions and less tasty food seems to be feeling the pinch of government regulations in their slumping sales.  Perhaps the company forgot the basic rules of running a restaurant--when people go out to eat, they want the food to taste good and they want to feel like they’ve gotten a good deal for their money.

Of course, none of this silly food regulation would be necessary if the Obama administration simply had faith in the American public to make good food decisions.  But they don’t and that lack of faith was never more apparent than when Mrs. Obama, without a shred of understanding of the offensive nature of her statement, offered a bizarre explanation on the importance of government regulation, saying: “We can give parents all the information in the world, but they still won't have time to untangle labels filled with 10-syllable words or do long division with these portion sizes.”    

It’s clear the First Lady views the average shopper is addled, way too busy, and lacking in the basic math skills required for making nutritious food decisions.  It’s no wonder she feels it’s her duty to help us during her “second term” in office.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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