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Michelle Obama Slams Trump For Rolling Back Her School Meals Program


Michelle Obama spoke out today about the issue she championed from the White House - getting people to eat better. Her comments came just days after the Trump administration changed the rules on school lunch and postponed new regulations that required calories to be posted on restaurant menus.

NPR's Allison Aubrey joins us to talk about it. And, Allison, first off, remind us the Trump administration made some significant changes to the school nutrition rules last week. What did they do?

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: That's right. Well, Sonny Perdue, who's Trump's agriculture secretary, announced last week that rather than reducing sodium or salt in school lunches as had been spelled out by the nutrition standards that were put in place during the Obama administration, that this administration has decided to hold off on reductions.

They also changed the rules going forward on whole grains, saying, you know, not all whole grains served in school need to be whole grain rich. When he announced this, he basically said, you know, I've been listening to kids and school administrators, and they're complaining about these standards, and schools just need more flexibility.


SONNY PERDUE: We all know that meals can't be nutritious if they aren't consumed, if they're put in the trash. And that's really - we've got to balance the nutritional aspect, the sodium content, the whole grain content with the palatability.

AUBREY: Basically, he said, you know, we got to think about what tastes good to kids.

SIEGEL: This was the key priority of Michelle Obama when she was first lady. And she had something to say about it today.

AUBREY: Yep. She sat down for an interview at the Partnership for a Healthier America conference here in Washington just a few hours ago. She sat down Sam Kass, who you may remember as the former White House chef and food policy director. So he brought up these changes announced last week, and she jumped right in.

She said, look, millions of kids rely on school food for most of their healthy calories each day. And she looked around the room to everybody gathered there, all of whom are in some way involved in advocating for healthier habits, and she said, we've got to make sure that, you know, we don't let anybody take us back.


MICHELLE OBAMA: Because the question is, where are we going back to? You know, this is where you really have to look at motives. Every elected official on this planet should understand - don't play with our children, don't do it.

AUBREY: And then she weighed in on calorie labeling. She said, you know, it's pretty clear that many Americans and most Americans want to know more about what is in their food, not less. She said that was the whole point of requiring chain restaurants and grocery stores and other food retailers to start posting calories on menus or menu boards. And so in a very diplomatic way, she said, you know, hello, people, Americans are waiting for these labels.


OBAMA: This is where you got to look yourselves in the eye. We have to look our neighbors in the eye and kind of go, what is going on? 'Cause this just isn't that complicated. You know, just tell me what's in my food.

AUBREY: But as we now know, the administration last week postponed the implementation of a calorie-labeling rule. The line from the FDA when they announced this, they basically said, we have got to fulfill our public health mission, but we also need to minimize the regulatory burden as they put it.

SIEGEL: Are people who pressed for healthier school meals and healthier eating in general - do they feel that perhaps they've lost the momentum?

AUBREY: You know, I don't think so. What's interesting is there's this push in our culture to eat healthier, to be more active, and big companies realize that. They are onboard, signaling to Americans, hey, we're trying to do the right thing for your health. I mean, look what the big beverage companies are doing, Coke and Pepsi. They're saying we're going to reduce sugar. Dannon, the big yogurt maker, we're going to reduce sugar.

Just today, there was this announcement at the Partnership for a Healthier America conference from the National Confectioners Association. We hadn't heard much from them, but big candy brands - these are brands you'll recognize, Robert - Mars, Nestle - they said, you know, we're going to start reducing our portion sizes. By 2022, half our bars will be just 200 calories.

SIEGEL: And will they be reducing prices for those small portions?

AUBREY: I doubt that. These companies still need to make money, but they're saying, hey, how can we help you live a little healthier? Maybe we'll nudge you to eat just a little less chocolate.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks.

AUBREY: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF BATTLES' "FUTURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.