Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at an Event on Access to Healthy, Affordable Food

July 20, 2011

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you, everyone. Thanks so much. Please, rest yourselves. Good afternoon.

AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.

MRS. OBAMA: Well, this is very cool. (Laughter.) I am thrilled to be here today. And I want to start by thanking Josephine for that very kind introduction and for her wonderful remarks. And I have to say, I have to out you, today is her birthday. (Applause.) So happy birthday. She just turned 30 -- (laughter) -- and I think that she's going to go out and party and hang out, go to some clubs. (Laughter.) So we hope this has been a good way to start your birthday. We are thrilled to have you.

I also want to acknowledge the members of Congress who are with us today. Thank you all for taking time to come and join us. I want to thank Mayor Lozano for his leadership and his service. There you are. Thank you so much. And I have to recognize my partner in crime, Jim Gavin. I always know that when I see him, there's good news ahead. So we are happy to have him, as well as the Partnership for a Healthier America, for being here and for their role in helping to gather these commitments and ensuring our success going forward. That partnership has been a tremendous part of "Let's Move."

And finally, I want to thank all of the businesses, all of the nonprofits, all the elected officials here. I want to thank you for your passion. I want to thank you for your conviction and for your dedication to our communities.

And going off-script just a bit, I would like all of the employees who have come here today -- because these businesses brought the stars of their show, the men and women who work in these stores -- would you all please stand? (Applause.) Good stuff.

So make no mistake about it: This is a big deal. It is a really big deal. I think our Vice President put it better but I'm not going to use his words. (Laughter.) This is a really big deal. (Laughter.) The commitments that you all are making today have the potential to be a game-changer for our kids and for our communities all across this country.

See, when we started "Let's Move" way back when we launched it, we made healthy food financing one of our four key pillars, and there's a reason for that. There's a reason why we set a goal that every family in every community in America would have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. And we knew that goal was ambitious. We knew that a lot of folks had been working on this problem for years, and few had been able to solve it. And we knew the conventional wisdom on this issue –- that businesses won't take the risk of investing in certain communities, that the costs are too high but the profits too low to make it worthwhile.

But we also knew that if we truly wanted to end the epidemic of childhood obesity, if we truly wanted all of our kids to have the chance to grow up healthy, then we didn't have a choice. We needed to confront this problem head on. Because we can give people all of the information and advice in the world about healthy eating and exercise. We can talk all we want about calorie counts and recipes and how to serve balanced meals. But if parents can't buy the food they need to prepare those meals, if their only options for groceries are in the corner gas station or the local minimart, then all that is just talk. It's all just talk, and that is not what "Let's Move" is about.

"Let's Move" is about giving parents real choices about the food their kids are eating. And if a parent wants to pack a piece of fruit in a child's lunch, if a parent wants to add some lettuce for a salad at dinner, they shouldn't have to take three city buses, or pay some expensive taxi to go to another community to make that possible.

Instead, they should have fresh food retailers right in their communities -– places that sell healthy food at reasonable prices, so that they can feed their families in the way that they see fit, because when they have those choices, that can have a real, measurable impact on a family's health, and we all know that. Studies have shown that people who live in communities with greater access to supermarkets eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and they have lower rates of obesity.

Now, we know this isn't going to be easy -- nothing we do ever is. We know that we can't just throw money at this problem, especially not at this time. And we know that it won't be solved by government alone or by businesses alone or by communities alone. If we want to make a difference in this issue, we all are going to have to step up -- all of us. We all have to find a way to do our part.

Solving this problem is about people like Mayor Lozano and Representative Dwight Evans, who decided that no child should be consigned to a life of poor health because of the neighborhood that his or her family lives in. So what did they do? They started reaching out to businesses, helping folks set up shop in communities in their area.

It's about organizations like the Food Trust, who have been studying this issue and creating models for how to solve it. It's about coalitions like the FreshWorks Fund, who have come together and pooled their resources and expertise, and they'll be bringing small, family-owned grocery stores into underserved communities all across California.

And it's, of course, about companies like Walgreens and Wal-Mart and SuperValu. It's about entrepreneurs like Greg Calhoun and Jeffrey Brown -- all of them are stepping up. They decided to take that risk. They decided to make that investment, because what they knew was how big that payoff could be. Not just in terms of dollars, but in the lives of our children, the lives that we can save.

You see, they didn't do this just as executives who care about their company's bottom lines -- and I've met these people. They did it as parents and as grandparents who care about the health of our kids. They did it as leaders who care about our country's future. And I think that Jeff Brown put it best when he said, and these are his words, "We're not going to be on the sidelines." He said, "We're going to be right with our communities using what we're good at: solving problems through innovation and entrepreneurial thinking." And I have had the pleasure of seeing firsthand what happens when folks like Jeff put that innovation and entrepreneurial thinking into work in our communities.

Last year, I had the privilege of visiting Philly, a city where just seven years ago there were fewer supermarkets per person than almost anywhere in America. But today, because of the dedicated efforts of elected officials and nonprofit organizations and businesses across the state of Pennsylvania, they have funded 88 supermarket projects in 34 counties, bringing nutritious food to more than 500,000 people in that state. And they're projecting to create or preserve more than 5,000 jobs, often in communities that need these jobs the most.

And I visited one of those stores during my time there, and I have to tell you from firsthand experience, the stores are thriving. These are beautiful, bright, gleaming stores that would make any community proud. And the people who work there and shop there were proud to be part of it. They were proud to have that kind of store in their communities. And they would turn in a good profit.

And we know that when these stores succeed they can serve as anchors in our communities, drawing customers from surrounding neighborhoods and communities, and creating jobs for people like Josie and so many others, and all the folks out there who are wanting to work in their communities. And that, in turn, can attract other businesses to come and set up shop, which can mean even more customers and even more jobs.

So we know the impact that we can have here. All of us understand how important this is on so many different fronts. And that's why as part of "Let's Move," we created a Healthy Food Financing Initiative to encourage efforts like those in Philadelphia to happen all across American. We can do it there, we can do it everywhere.

And this administration is committing $35 million this year, and the 2012 budget proposes another $330 million for next year. (Applause.) And the plan is to use that money to leverage hundreds of millions more from the private and nonprofit sectors.

So I think it's fair to say that we've got some big things happening here. It's pretty good. Just listening backstage, I mean, I knew all the -- I knew the announcement. They told me ahead of time. (Laughter.) But it was pretty impressive. But these commitments we're announcing today are still just the beginning.

We've got a lot of hard work ahead, long road, lot of work. So I want to be clear that today isn't just a celebration; it is also a call to action. Still, the companies represented here today are only a tiny fraction of the total number of food retailers in this country. And if they can step up and make these investments, then there is absolutely no reason why every food retailer in this country can't find some way to get involved as well. Right? Can I get an amen or something?


MRS. OBAMA: Yes. (Applause.)

So whether you're a small, local grocer like Jeff or Greg or a multinational corporation, everyone has a role to play. And we want folks to be creative because there's really no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue here. Every community has different needs and challenges that call for different approaches. A fresh food section in a Walgreens might be a good solution for one community, while a farmers market or maybe even a veggie truck might be the answer in another community.

At the end of the day, these are local decisions that need to be made by communities, for communities. So we need folks to go out and talk to their community leaders, and that's, again, not just a call to action to the business community, but to all Americans, particularly those living in areas that are underserved in this way. Talk to community leaders. Get connected with nonprofit organizations and foundations that are working on this issue.

We encourage people to go to our website, letsmove.gov. There they can learn about other individuals and communities that are working to solve this problem and find ideas.

Because the truth is, is that if we work together and do this right, if we bring the kind of success that we've had in Philadelphia to other cities and other communities across this country, just think about the difference that we can make.

Think about the numbers of people who will find jobs. Think about the neighborhoods that can potentially be transformed. But more importantly, think about the impact that we can have on our children and their futures -- on their health, their well-being, their ability to succeed in school and more importantly in life. Because that's really what this is about in the end. This is about our kids.

And together, with these commitments, we are happily taking the first important step forward to helping to create the kind of future that we want for all of our kids.

So I want to end today by saying how proud I am -- truly proud -- of what is happening here today. I want to tell all of you how grateful I am to see you all stepping up and being leaders in this effort. With your commitments today, you all are showing us what's possible. You're showing us that we live in a country where we do care deeply about our kids. We do.

And when people understand the threat of childhood obesity and what risk it poses to our children's future, and when people realize that they can actually do something about it, that this isn't some mysterious issue that we can't address, we know the answer, it is right there, then people step up.

They do what we've always done for our children. We take risks. We make sacrifices so that our kids can have a better life than we had, so that they can have opportunities that we never dreamed of.

So in the end, that is what "Let's Move" is all about. That's what these commitments represent. And I look forward to working with all of you, doing more, getting more retailers on board, creating more jobs, getting more fresh fruit and vegetables into the hands of families all across this nation. We are going to get this done. We're making some terrific progress, but we still have work to do. And I look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead.

Thank you all so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at an Event on Access to Healthy, Affordable Food Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320548

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