She’s cute, sassy, playful and sincere. At age 8, Jasmine Messiah makes an ideal poster child for a campaign that targets the Obamas and Congress and amounts to an old-fashioned food fight.
On posters that began popping up this week near the Capitol in Washington, D.C., little Jasmine beams at the camera with her arms crossed and shares this message: “President Obama’s daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don’t I?”
The posters are part of a campaign that will run through the month of August in an effort to influence Congress to reform the Child Nutrition Act, which dictates the nutritional content of lunches in public schools. Masterminded by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the campaign seeks to have more vegetables, fruits and low-fat vegetarian options appear on school-lunch menus.
“At most schools, children have no alternative at all to the meaty, cheesy, high-calorie fare that contributes to childhood obesity and health problems,” Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a statement. “Congress needs to help all schools, no matter how disadvantaged, to provide vegetables, fruits and healthy nondairy vegetarian choices, and should provide the funding to make that feasible.”
Pepperoni pizza vs. vegetarian chili
Sasha and Malia Obama attend Sidwell Friends School, an exclusive private school in the Washington area that makes vegetarian meals available to its students.
Jasmine, who attends a public school in Miami, wrote a letter to the first daughters and asked for their help with her enthusiastic push to bring more veggies and fruits to kids across America.
“I’m glad that your school, Sidwell Friends, already has lots of healthy options in the cafeteria, including vegetarian chili and roasted vegetable pizza,” Jasmine wrote.
“The problem is that most students eat unhealthy foods, like hot dogs, pepperoni pizza, ham sandwiches and cheeseburgers, every day at school,” Jasmine added in her letter. “A lot of schools, including mine, don’t offer enough healthy fruits, vegetables and vegetarian meals.”
The White House has yet to respond to the campaign; Congress is scheduled to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act in the coming weeks. The posters are plastered around the Union Station Amtrak and commuter rail station in D.C., where many lawmakers are likely to see them.
A story on the Web site Politico.com speculated that the campaign could anger the Obamas and spark a negative backlash because it targets Malia and Sasha so prominently.
“This is not the way to win the heart of the president,” Darrell West, governance studies director at Brookings Institution, told Politico.com. “It’s dangerous to target Obama’s daughters because many people view family members as off-limits for political advocacy. That’s especially relevant in this case because his daughters are so young.”
Officials with the Physicians Committee, which spent $20,000 producing the posters for the campaign, said that’s a risk they’re willing to shoulder.
“I am not concerned with the White House being disappointed in this ad,” Susan Levin, nutrition education director of the Physicians Committee, told Politico.com. “I’m more concerned that Congress gets the message. And if they get it because it raises Obama’s eyebrow, so be it.”
Childhood obesity on the riseIn its campaign, the Physicians Committee notes that childhood obesity is at a record high and that “one in three young people born in 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in his or her life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
“Vegetarian, especially vegan, meals are typically low in fat and calories,” the committee said. “Scientific evidence shows that consuming more plant-based foods can help prevent obesity, heart disease and diabetes.”
Jasmine Messiah said she brings fruits and vegetables to school with her because she genuinely enjoys them.
“Sometimes I bring in broccoli and carrots and my friends are like, ‘Ewww, this is disgusting,’ ” she told The Miami Herald. “But I think if they tried it more, they’d like it.”