Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
I hope you're sitting down for this news: Michelle Obama recently ate a burger (490 calories), chocolate shake (790 calories), and -- someone, hide the children! -- french fries (470 calories). All on the same day (Monday), in the same meal (at Washington D.C.'s new Shake Shack), no less.
We know this is true because "a Washington Post journalist on the scene" confirmed the First Lady's order. So I didn't know this, but apparently, Michelle Obama eating lunch constitutes a "scene" by today's journalistic standards, requiring eyewitness accounts to verify events. (Also, check out the ABC News video footage posted by Jezebel.)
Of course, obsessing over Obama's eating habits is nothing new. Back in February, I reported how Rush Limbaugh got himself in a lather when she ate ribs in Colorado. People get really upset whenever Obama eats junk food because she dares to spend so many of her waking hours planting organic vegetable gardens on the White House lawns, and turning the desperately dysfunctional food pyramid into the actually usable MyPlate. It's like they see her with a French fry and they just don't know what to believe anymore.
But here's the thing: You can eat a Shake Shack meal and still lead a healthy lifestyle. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. And I don't just mean the way lots of nutritionists are being quoted in all the news reports by saying "oh, once in awhile won't kill you." That is true, of course. But it still implies that Obama is doing something dangerous and more than just a little bit bad with her "sinful indulgence."
As I've explained before, nobody (not even the wives of elected officials) has to earn the right to eat delicious food. There aren't any prerequisites. You can just eat it. It's fine, perfectly legal and it doesn't have anything to do with your worth as a person. When we tangle nutritional choices up with morality, we have to start living by these super strict food rules instead of being the bosses of our own underpants, as my friend Ragen Chastein likes to say. And that's not healthy.
Here's what is healthy -- but, admittedly, harder to pull off even if you don't have the White House Press Corps on the scene for your every meal: Incorporating treat foods, like chocolate milk shakes and French fries (or whatever your heart desires!) seamlessly into your life in a way that makes sense for you. Without feeling the need to announce, justify, rationalize or plan the appropriate atonement every time you do. This means recognizing that some meals aren't just about food as fuel. They're about food as celebration, joy, relaxation, or heck, the fact that it's good politics to make nice when a job-creating new restaurant pulls up in town. And that's okay.
So I feel sorry for Obama every time the media erupts in the "she ate what?!" hysteria. Because anyone who has ever second-guessed a meal choice knows the guilt you can feel if even just one person asks "are you sure you want to eat that?" Let alone the whole nation.
But mostly, I feel sad because all this hand wringing just underscores how very unhealthy and unbalanced our food culture has become. And I don't just mean the calorie counts.