Digging Out the Roots of Obesity in Michelle Obama's Vegetable Garden

First Lady calls Americans' bulging waistlines a problem of 'epidemic proportions', costing the U.S. health-care system $3 billion a year.

WASHINGTON - In all my visits to the White House, I never bothered to take a peek at First Lady Michelle Obama's famous vegetable garden, from which she launched her campaign to combat obesity among American school children and promote a healthy lifestyle. I didn't pass up the garden because I thought politics was more important than kohlrabi. But the vegetable garden is a fair distance from the room where reporters are briefed, and in any event, one can't just wander around the White House grounds.

But when fall arrived, the Obama administration informed us that most of the White House vegetable crop has already been harvested, with the help of children from a local school. So I decided to take advantage of my last chance for a look.

Michelle Obama - Reuters - Oct. 29, 2010

No one promised the first lady would be there, but magazine covers have been giving the impression that she spends a fair amount of time in the garden. And even if she weren't there when I arrived, I hoped she might surprise me and pop in as her husband, the president, did when Defense Minister Ehud Barak was visiting.

Unfortunately, in the end she stood me up, choosing to attend a midterm election campaign event in California instead. So I had to make do with the assistant White House chef, Sam Kass, a cheerful man who is in charge of the garden. He apologized for the meager pickings, explaining that a winter crop would be planted shortly after my visit.

Robin Schepper, who is the director of Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" anti-obesity program, also joined us in the garden. She called Americans' bulging waistlines a problem of epidemic proportions that was costing the U.S. health-care system $3 billion a year.

Kass added that the vegetable garden, the first at the White House since Franklin Roosevelt's administration in the 1940s, had done its part in highlighting the importance of proper nutrition, not only in the United States but around the world. Wherever Michelle Obama travels, Kass said, people ask about two things - the White House dog and the vegetable garden.