COMMENTARY: Veggies, Muppets and the White House: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

OKLAHOMA CITY – This week, from the White House came a press release:

First Lady Michelle Obama has joined Sesame Street characters, the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America in a two-year agreement to promote fresh fruit and vegetables to kids. 

Sesame Street’s Big Bird, Elmo, Rosita and Abby Cadabby will appear – without licensing fees – in the aisles of America’s super-markets and health stores in support of good food and healthy habits.

Mrs. Obama declared: “Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other Sesame Street Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle. 

“Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips. That’s what this new collaboration between Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association is all about – showing our kids that healthy food can be fun and that fruits and vegetables don’t just make us feel good, they taste good too.”

I should be comforted that the First Lady and the Muppets will lead us to nutritional promised land, and some of my best friends are Sesame Street characters, but oh my.

There was this tug of liberty-sensitive conscience, leading me to ask: Is this what my government should be doing? 

I sent the news release to fellow center-right types, mostly but not exclusively journalists. As always, there was considerable diversity in the responses. 

One fellow, an editor whose opinion I take seriously because I have to (just kidding, sort of) reflected, “I regard this as an appropriate use of White House power — to encourage kids to eat well without creating regulations that insist they do or face penalties? I’m all for it.” 

One other pal – but only one other – agreed, “For a change they are doing something positive to improve people’s lives.” 

I’ll admit: Veggies are wonderful. Fruits are great. Veggies and fruits are “the good” in this story.

My oldest grandson and I share a sincere love for brockley. Recently, at a local restaurant, a waiter asked the lad, who had ordered a burger, “What side do you want?” He named several unhealthy alternatives, including fries.

He replied, “Do you have brock-a-wee?”

Stunned, the waiter replied, “Brockley? That’s the other option, but I’ve never had a kid order it.”

My pride and joy answered, “I want brock-a-wee, pwease.” 

So, yes, there is some merit in Mrs. Obama’s efforts.

However, in my circle of friends a more common opinion concerning the release was this:

No amount of marketing or “Street” cred will help kids like Brussels Sprouts (BS). If they choose BS once, because of Elmo’s influence, they will renounce BS forever after the first taste. 

True, perhaps, but Brussels Sprouts are good for you.

Call unanticipated consequences – possible lifelong hatred of veggies for a generation of children — “the bad.”

Will such efforts really help kids learn to love fruit and veggies, or will they learn to hate and distrust Sesame Street?

(Maybe that’s ok, if you don’t like the idea of government-financed cartoon characters telling our kids what to do, or if you think vegetables are un-American.) 

What if there is a follow-up White House release, in which the First Lady exclaims, “Just imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips. Imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Justin Bieber up and down the produce aisle.”

I’ll stop soon, but call that “the ugly.” 

The serious point is government encroachment on parenting (and grand-parenting) – but let’s all promise to keep a sense of humor.

One colleague called my attention to a classic from The Onion, which compiles fake news stories. One was quite humorous but far too plausible, with a “straight” report describing the increasing trend toward “school-homing” – parents deciding to turn their children over to the government for rearing.

Then there was the actual news story about the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to destroy stamps supporting “Let’s Move!” – because some of the stamps showed kids engaged in sporting activities without wearing helmets, knee pads and other protective gear.  

When the White House release said the idea behind Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative was “making those healthy choices a little easier for busy parents and families to make,” I reacted poorly, thinking out loud: What business is it of yours?

Then, I calmed down and channeled my inner optimist. It took half a lifetime, but I learned to love spinach, collard greens and kale. 

Eventually kids grow up, as one friend observed. They no longer think Sesame Street is cool, so they can decide these things for themselves.

Meanwhile, pass the brockley, please. 

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