Even Healthy Eating Is A Partisan Issue Now

For those who still do not believe that we are entering a hyper-partisan age where literally no issue is safe from being turned into a political battle, look no further than the increasingly ridiculous backlash against Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy eating. To be fair, conservatives have long made fun of “health nuts” and people who champion diets and better food choices, but this is definitely a step too far.

The first ladies of the twentieth century and beyond have traditionally chosen a cause to champion, using their influence in order to make a difference. I want the same people who claim that Michelle Obama is imposing her healthier lifestyle on others to also criticize the “government intrusion” advocated by other first ladies, such as Laura Bush’s campaign to fight illiteracy. After all, if we have the right to eat whatever we want, don’t we have the right to be unable to read? What Michelle Obama is doing is no different from her predecessors, and it is no different from the advice of our doctors or our parents.

With this being said, is there really a reason to raise such an objection to one woman’s attempts to encourage better health? It is true that we all like to do whatever we want, but it is also true that no one wants to die. Eating healthy would prolong our lives and save us a lot of trouble later in our lives. Common sense tells us that eventually we will need to change our ways if we are to survive. But that’s just the problem – no one likes to hear that they need to change their ways. We get comfortable with our routines, and changing is hard. No one likes to be told that what he or she is doing is bad or somehow the wrong thing.

Americans are independent and hate being coerced into doing something they do not want to do, but it is not such a bad thing to be reminded every once in awhile that there are better options. Open dialogue and an actual effort to make healthy living a little easier and fit into our society could only be a good thing. After all, the alternatives are increased obesity, easily preventable diseases and earlier death.

When I hear the clamoring on the right about how out of line Michelle Obama is for daring to suggest that maybe we should think twice before eating junk food, I am reminded of the critics of people who encourage us to recycle. Just as Sarah Palin brought cookies to a school as part of a speech criticizing Mrs. Obama’s message, Glenn Beck and others have ridiculed people who use reusable bags at grocery stores and celebrated purposely choosing plastic in protest. I can understand some people not liking the idea of being forced to do one thing over another, but the government is not banning plastic bags at grocery stores or preventing anyone from eating McDonald’s. First of all, there’s way too much money at stake to do that, and second, you are perfectly free to ignore the advice and encouragement being offered. You want to eat a hamburger every day? Fine, no one is stopping you.

If these critics were being completely honest with themselves they would have to admit that this is good advice. Being smarter about what we eat doesn’t hurt us, just as being less wasteful couldn’t make the world worse off. Therefore, the motive is obviously political. As unbelievable as it sounds, sometimes we just run out of things to criticize the president for. When that happens, it is comforting to know that it is now appropriate to criticize his wife for getting in our faces about the choices we make and pointing out a different way to lead our lives. There are plenty of issues that need addressing, and real policy debates that we should be having. It is simply irresponsible and childish the way the right has made a mountain out of this molehill. Why we are wasting time arguing about whether or not the first lady is crossing some line by championing a worthy cause is beyond me, but it is symbolic of the polarized discourse of our times.

Kerry Wakely is a third-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.