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What Michelle Obama Taught Barack about Food

Barack Obama was in Milan on Tuesday to talk food and climate change at the Seeds&Chips conference.

The former president, however, is not the Obama most associated with food policy. During her time as first lady, Michelle Obama made health and nutrition one of her core issues. Her Let’s Move campaign, as the former president noted at the conference, helped bring down obesity rates among young children for the first time in three decades.

Michelle Obama made health and nutrition one of her core issues as First Lady.JIM WATSON AFP/Getty Images

“I think Michelle’s success was because she came at the problem as a parent rather than a policymaker,” he said, adding that she was very attuned to feeding their kids not just healthy food but food they would actually eat.

He noted while there are some elite athletes who eat just for fuel, most us “want joy from food.” He added, “Michelle’s strength was thinking in those practical terms.”

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Obama said that particularly in food, ‘it’s important to attract people with something positive rather than penalize them with something negative.”

Obama, who was interviewed by Sam Kass—his former senior food policy advisor—noted that food is a very emotional thing. “I think the average person is not going to be happy if the government is telling them what they’re eating or drinking or how they’re supposed to live,” he said.