Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at Goya Foods "MiPlato" Announcement in Tampa, Florida

January 26, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everyone. (Applause.) Well, hello, and thank you. Thank you for that wonderful welcome. And, Aimee, thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for that kind introduction. And thank you for your work as a health advocate in your own right, working with teenagers. I know you can be one of those key communicators, because it's not just little kids who need to understand that, it's our adolescents and young adults as well. So thank you for that.

It's wonderful to be back in Tampa.

I want to start by thanking Fausto Castillo -- and I know your family is here as well. Are those your two little ones? They're cute -- very cute. I love your shirts. (Laughter.)

And I want to thank everyone here at National Supermarket for hosting us today. To all the staff who is here, thank you all, thank you for letting us interrupt your workday. It's an honor to be here.

I also want to recognize Representative Kathy Castor and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn -- (applause) -- as well for their leadership and for joining us here today.

And, of course, I want to thank Bob and everyone at Goya Foods for making this groundbreaking commitment to our nation's children.

And finally, I want to thank all of you who are here -- the community leaders, the parents, the advocates from so many of our Hispanic communities. When it comes to fighting for the health of our children, it's folks like you, from America's diverse and growing Hispanic community, who have been leading the way. From the very beginning, when we launched "Let's Move", you all have been vital partners for us, making sure that we understand the challenges that Hispanic children and families are facing.

And over the past two years, we've worked with organizations like the National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and so many others. We've met with faith and community leaders, with educators, with other parents in Hispanic communities from across this country.

And what we've learned is that when it comes to keeping their kids healthy, Hispanic parents are facing pretty much the same challenges that everyone else is. Kids are spending too much time in front of the TV instead of outside playing. Chips and candy and soda are taking up too much of their diets, while oftentimes fruits and vegetables don't make enough of an appearance on the plate.

And quite frankly, parents are stretched thinner than ever before, so often it's just easier to pick up fast food or to get something from the corner store, because people don't have the time or the energy to make a home-cooked meal.

And we're seeing these struggles in every community in the country, in families from all different backgrounds. But we also know that the Hispanic communities face unique challenges. While one in three kids in America are overweight or obese, we know that in Hispanic community, it's nearly two in five -- two in five.

Now, some of this disparity is due to simple economics. This economic downturn has hit Hispanic households particularly hard. And folks are struggling to make ends meet and just to put food on the table, and we all know that sometimes the most affordable options aren't always the healthiest options.

But this disparity is also about access. It's about whether or not families can actually buy fresh, healthy foods right in their own communities. The fact is that today, Hispanic neighborhoods have one-third as many supermarkets as non-Hispanic neighborhoods. That's one-third.

And we all know what that means for children and families. It means that a mom who wants to buy fruit for her kids' lunch or wants to buy lettuce for a salad for dinner has to travel all the way across town just to make that happen. Sometimes they're taking their kids on a bus, going all the way across town, and then traveling home with arms full of grocery bags, and trying to push kids in strollers. Some parents have to get in a cab and pay a fare to get across town to get to a grocery store.

And these are the challenges that so many families are facing, and these are the stories that are truly at the heart of "Let's Move." But also we have to understand that government doesn't have all the answers. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this kind of issue. Every community and every family is different.

For example, as we met with Hispanic leaders and communities, we came to understand the special role that food plays in Hispanic households. Food can be a symbol of cultural identity -- right? It knits families together. Meals are often synonymous with family traditions; recipes are passed down from generation to generation.

And as someone who grew up in a close-knit, food-loving family, that's something that I can really relate to. Some of my best childhood memories involve food. Family and friends gathering together for hours in the kitchen -- that was the living room, the kitchen; you didn't sit in the living room, you sat in the kitchen -- cooking our favorite dishes, making sure that everyone ate until they were full -- beyond full, right? Sitting for hours, talking, laughing, sharing stories. Actually, a big meal was one of the best ways we had to show the people in our lives how much we cared. That's all we had. And what I've come to appreciate is that whether you're African American, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban –- food is love. Food is love.

But, fortunately, more and more families are realizing that we can still show that love, we can still honor those traditions, but we can do it in a way that's healthy for everyone -- especially for our kids.

So folks are starting to make simple changes -- things like replacing butter or lard with canola or olive oil -- something as simple as that. Adding tomatoes or zucchini or peppers to rice dishes. Using whole-wheat tortillas -- something we did yesterday, in Virginia. Rachel Ray made these wonderful tortillas. Kids devoured them -- really, I did, too. (Laughter.) Using low-fat cheeses, using lean meats, and adding more fruits and vegetables to the meals. And what people are discovering is that the dishes taste the same, and sometimes they taste better. And more importantly, kids like them as much, and sometimes even more.

And that's really what "MiPlato" is all about. It's a framework that any family can use -- any family. Any culture can interpret the plate in a way that is true to their traditions. You just fill up half of the plate with fruits and vegetables, you start there, and you fill the rest of it with lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy products. It is just that simple. You have the plate, you look at it, you fill it up -- you don't have to worry about measurements. It's right there.

And now, thanks to Goya's new commitments, parents across the country will have the information, the tips, the recipes they need to put this framework into practice. And truly, that is what we miss. It's just the information. We just need to know how this works. Goya is putting "MiPlato," the icon, on the labels -- as Bob said, on products like the beans, black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans.

They're producing the pamphlets that you saw, cookbooks that provide parents with simple, nutritious recipes -– that's always something that's important when you're a busy mom, just figuring out what to cook and how to do it and make it quick and easy. And giving the coupons so that families can stay within budget -- that is key.

Goya is also distributing posters with simple tips like: Drink water instead of sugary drinks. That is a cost-effective way of cutting a lot of calories out of our kids' meals; just drink water. That's what we do in our house, you drink water. I say that so much. I feel like the kids are here. (Laughter.) Make half of your grains whole grains -- that's another easy tip. And what I hope is that storeowners across the country will display these "MiPlato" posters where parents and kids can actually see them. So make this visible.

And finally, as Bob said, Goya has created a lesson plan that makes all of this fun for our students, so that eating healthy isn't something that they see as -- that they have to do, but it's something that they want to do.

So I want to thank Goya for making such a tremendous commitment to our communities. But I also want to be clear that Goya isn't doing this all on their own. They're getting help from partners like LULAC, La Raza, and so many others, to help distribute these pamphlets and coupons into communities across the country.

And in the end, that is really what "Let's Move" is all about. That's what this initiative is all about. It's about folks from every single sector of our society stepping up and coming together on behalf of our kids. And we have kids here right now. (Laughter.) Happy, joyful kids. See, this is what life is about. He probably wants an apple. (Laughter and applause.) And he's very cute. He should come up here and see me. (Laughter.) See, this is what it's about.

It's also about businesses and organizations like the National Hispanic Medical Association and Univision offering their advice and support. It's about companies like Wal-Mart selling products with less sugar, fat and salt -- just like Goya is doing. Companies are making changes, fundamental changes to the content of their product. Companies like Walgreens and SuperValu are making commitments to sell healthy food in 1,500 underserved communities. That is huge.

It's about congregations and faith-based organizations sponsoring summer food programs as part of our "Let's Move" Faith and Communities initiative. It's about community leaders like Sylvia Acevedo -- she's a businesswoman from Austin, Texas, who launched community events that are called "Fitness Ferias." And their kids are playing tug-of-war, they're riding bikes, doing obstacle courses, and having the time of their lives. These are simple things to get nutrition, but to get our kids up and moving. People are doing this all over the country.

And it's also about government doing its part as well. Congress passed groundbreaking legislation to improve the food we serve to our kids in school -- and so many of our kids are getting all of their calories in our schools. And as I said yesterday, as parents, we do the best that we can, so we don't want our efforts undone when we send our kids to school. We want to know that they're getting the same kind of balance, the same kind of nutrition that we expect for them at home. And the Department of Agriculture launched its "La Mesa Completa" initiative to help families afford groceries, and to bring nutritious meals to kids not just in school but also throughout the summer.

So the truth is, is that we have made some really amazing and important progress. But let's be clear. While we should be very proud of everything we've accomplished so far, today is neither a beginning, nor an end to this story. We still have a long way to go and we're going to need everyone's help. We're going to need everyone in all of our communities paying attention to these issues, taking this information in, going into the websites, getting informed -- making that effort to spend some time playing with your kids, dancing with your kids, walking with your kids, because we are their best role models in the very end.

Because it is going to take all of us -- every single one of us -- working together to give our children everything we know they need to grow up healthy and strong. Because we're going to need them when we get old and tired. (Laughter.) We're going to need them stepping up and being ready for the challenges that they will certainly face. But what I know is that when we come together, and when we focus all the strength that we have in our hearts and in our communities, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish on behalf of our kids -- nothing.

And with the help of folks like Bob and the folks at Goya, I am confident that we can give our kids the happy, healthy futures that they deserve.

So, thank you all. Thank you for taking the time. (Applause.) Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Aimee. God bless you all. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at Goya Foods "MiPlato" Announcement in Tampa, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320326

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