Vilsack on Food

The Washington Post has an interesting Q and A with U.S. Sec. of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

One portion of it took me back:

What don’t people know about you that might change their minds?

Food during my early years was a very difficult issue for me. I grew up in an addictive family. My mother had serious problems with alcohol and prescription drugs. I was an overweight kid. I can remember back in those days there weren’t the strategies that there are today to deal with those issues. So my parents put this very nasty cartoon of a very overweight young kid with a beanie cap and pasted it on the front of the refrigerator. So every time I opened the refrigerator I had to look at that picture.

Food is a fairly significant aspect of my life. I have struggled mightily with food. With my weight. And I’m conscious of it. So I have a sensitivity to people who struggle with their weight. That’s one aspect people don’t fully appreciate. I don’t want youngsters to go through what I went through.

 The first time I heard Vilsack tell that story was at a gathering of nutrition experts at the State Historical Building.

It was Feb. 15, 2006, and a typical gubernatorial public appearance turned into a debate when the governor took issue with the Iowa Dietetic Association’s call for yanking soda machines out of public schools. He argued that teaching kids to make healthy choices would do more to fight obesity than a pop machine ban.

After debating with a room full of dieticians over the soda issue for several minutes, Vilsack told of his personal experience. I actually tracked down my story from that day:

Vilsack said he, too, struggled with obesity as a child. He told the dietitians that his mother taped a picture of a fat cartoon character on the family’s refrigerator to remind him to watch what he ate.

Now Vilsack said he runs 35 to 45 miles every week to stay fit.

“Hopefully I provide some example for folks,” said Vilsack, who took the elevator and not the stairs as he left the gathering.

 I just had to throw in the part about the elevator, didn’t I?  

It sounds like, according to the WaPo piece, that Vilsack’s thinking may have evolved somewhat to include schools having a responsibility to provide healthy choices:

There are ways we can go do a better job of educating young moms and dads about the vital role they have as the child’s first teacher. I think there are ways in which we can partner with local school districts and states to do a better job to provide nutrition options at school. It’s our responsibility to get this health-care crisis under control. I think if people understand that history and how serious I am about this and look at the record in Iowa — the real record in Iowa — they would be less concerned than they were.

Vilsack says he’ll take his cues from President Obama, who wants more nutritious foods in schools.

 The Post did not note whether Vilsack  took the elevator, however.


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