03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Michelle Obama: "A Drumbeat Of Small Changes" To Better Eating

front page of The New York Times dining section yesterday featured not one
but two stories on chefs playing a major role in encouraging better
eating habits in America. All part of Michelle Obama’s “crusade to
reduce childhood obesity through better school lunches, community
gardens, farmers markets and exercise.” The good news is the changes don't have to be cosmic to have a huge effect.

When faced with big challenges the average citizen throws up her hands and says “but what can I do to really make a difference?”

The answer is “plenty.” And unlike purchasing a Prius you can start right now, today.

  1. Grow your food. You’ll connect with the cycles of nature. You’ll experience seeing a plant grow from a tiny seed to a head of lettuce that fills your salad bowl. You’ll also see what it’s its like to face hellacious weather, poor soil, and pests. And in turn you’ll have a greater appreciation for what you see on display at farmers’ markets. For example, how hard it is to grow a carrot. Or the joy of pulling a warm cherry tomato off the vine and serving it to your nine-year-old.
  2. Talk to farmers. You’ll be impressed with the depth of farmers’ knowledge. Why they grow what they grow. How they augment the soil to make a far more nutritious product. When and why they may have to spray. For more questions to engage farmers, click here.
  3. Buy direct: Go to farmers’ markets and farm stands, or buy a share in a CSA. Buy a whole cow. Keep it in your freezer. Share it with your neighbor. You’ll put money directly in the pocket of a farmer rather than a host of middlemen. The typical farmer works 100 hours a week in the summer and may earn less than the typical customer service rep. Sure they love what they do but, if they’re going to invest in our food future, they need to earn more.
  4. Cook your own food. Daily shopping is much more fun. “Honey, are we going to visit Italy or Mexico tonight? Great broccoli rabe in the farmers market today. But those tomatillos make an excellent salsa too.” According to research, families that cook together are typically healthier than those that don’t. You’ll search out new potatoes like the fine Adirondack Red rather than the bland white potato. Try butternut squash as a side dish with pork rather than a once-a-year Thanksgiving soup.
  5. Experiment, with friends: Take your friends on a food adventure with you: Have them over for dinner, and try something new together.  Butterflied leg of lamb. A potato, leek and fennel gratin. Excite them with something that tastes great. And then maybe talk about how food is produced in this country. Don’t stuff them with stats from Food Inc.; inspire them with your cooking.

There’s plenty you can do today. Shift even 5% of your food budget
to locally grown food and the impact is significant. And you can hold off on
buying that Prius.