by Marion Nestle
Feb 21 2011

Sam Kass’s speech to the International Association of Culinary Professionals

Sam Kass, White House chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives gave the keynote address to members of the The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) at its New York City Regional Conference on Friday.

The IACP is much more than an organization of cooks.  Every member I talked to is engaged in some incredible farming, gardening, school, or other kids’ project, each more exciting than the next.

Kass spoke to an audience of people who care deeply about food, cooking, health, and kids, and eager to hear what he had to say.  Me too.

The core of his speech was a review of the accomplishments of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign, which has just completed its first year.   These, in sum, are considerable:

Over this past year, we’ve seen the first signs of a fundamental shift in how we live and eat.

We’ve seen changes at every level of our society—from classrooms to boardrooms to the halls of Congress.

We have begun to see this change because people from all over the country, parents and teachers, doctors and small business owners, have started demanding change.

…Parents asked for more fresh, nutritious food in communities.  So we’re working to bring more grocery stores into underserved areas.

Parents wanted healthier, more affordable options on those grocery store shelves.  So we collaborated with food companies and retailers to provide healthier products….

Parents asked for more information about the food you buy for your kids.  And today, we’re seeing better, clearer labels on beverage cans….

Parents asked for better food in your kids’ schools—the kind of balanced meals they are trying to make at home.  So we’re working to put salad bars in 6,000 schools across the country.  Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, historic legislation that will provide healthier school meals to millions of American children.

Parents asked for healthier communities that can sustain healthy families.  And through Let’s Move Cities and Towns, 500 mayors have committed to tackling obesity in their communities….

Parents asked for practical, affordable, real-life advice to keep kids healthy.  So we launched a public service campaign and a website——with helpful tips on exercise and nutrition….

If we can do all this in the first year, just imagine what we’ll achieve next year and the year after that….

These kinds of changes will not come easily….There will certainly be many roadblocks and setbacks.  But we need to keep working to break through and work in a collaborative way.

Here’s the speech in its entirety. It may sound speech-written and not overwhelming, but consider the context:  This is the first time food, nutrition, and health have gotten anywhere near this kind of attention at that level of government (at least, food writer Laura Shapiro tells me, since the time of Eleanor Roosevelt).

For the First Lady to take on these issues is truly extraordinary.  Mrs. Obama has no legislated power whatsoever.   She only has the power of leadership and persuasion.

That the kind of changes she is trying to make will not come easily is a breathtaking understatement.  The roadblocks are formidable.   Mr. Kass made it abundantly clear that the White House is trying to do what it can, and then some.

His speech was moving and inspiring.  It’s up to us to cheer them on in every way we can, and also to keep the pressure on to do even more.

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  • Cathy Richards

    It is so lovely to see something so positive. I needed something positive today.

    Ahhh…a much welcomed sigh.

    Thanks Marion!

  • Jim Mills

    Yes indeed, good news, but there seems to a a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing as the Obama administration has in the past three weeks approved the continued development of three GMO crops-alfalfa, sugar beets and a new variety of corn for ethanol. Serious stuff, to say the least and I think that the President and First Lady need to start comparing notes at the dinner table, a likely place to start.

  • Joe

    The first Lady may have no legislative power and by appearances she doesn’t even have the power to change how her husband eats. Most news reports show the President eating what most would call junk food much of the time. If she can’t influence her own family how is it that anyone thinks she will change a nation?

    Furthermore I would appreciate the chef sharing his evidence showing the recent “fundamental shift in how we live and eat.” It is easy to say those things to a friendly audience but shouldn’t those things be backed up with objective data?

  • Anthro

    @Jim Mills

    I fail to see how your point is related to the posting. The First Lady is taking steps in the right direction to see that kids have access to healthier food–whether or not it is organic, GM, or whatever. I have no problem with GM, per se, although I also abhor many of the practices that Monsanto carries out as they seek to misuse this technology. Farmers want GM for the most part. There is no science to back fears of the technology itself. We should regulate Monsanto heavily, but I repeat, what’s it got to do with the First Lady trying to get fresh produce into underserved neighborhoods, or getting kids to move more and drink less soda?

  • Anthro


    How about backing up your own accusations regarding the First Lady? I don’t know what you read, but my information is that the First Family eats a lot of food prepared by the staff from the garden the First Lady planted and that they eat together as a family most of the time.

    No one is saying that people should never indulge in some type of food that could be classified as “junk”, such as when the President pops into some local burger place with a visiting dignitary. That doesn’t mean that his basic diet is “bad”.

    This was a speech, not a scientific symposium. Mrs. Obama’s efforts are the result of a great deal of research which is what Mr. Kass was referring to in a more general way.

  • Cathy Richards

    The big shift here is, to grossly generalize, is that instead of bigwigs spouting off about disliking broccoli, they’re now spouting off about growing it, liking it, eating it.

    That’s a pretty fundamental shift in how D.C. thinks about food, and awareness/precontemplation/contemplation/preparation is a really significant step along the continuum of the stages of change.

  • This is good news indeed! It may seem like a small step, but every big thing starts off small. The First Lady is doing more than just standing up and telling children to eat better and get in shape… she’s getting out there and doing it with them. Planting a garden at the White House, and eating from that garden is a great thing for all of us to see – as a reminder that we can do this too – even if it’s a few plants in window sills in our apartments. I shall be interested to see what changes they’ve managed to institute at the end of the President’s term.

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