First lady takes on ‘food deserts’
July 20th, 2011
03:43 PM ET

First lady takes on ‘food deserts’

Michelle Obama unveiled the latest push in her healthy-eating campaign Wednesday, announcing several national and regional food retailers have pledged to expand into a string of low-income markets where finding nutritious food options is nearly impossible.

“If a parent wants to pack a piece of fruit in a child’s lunch, if a parent wants to add some lettuce to a salad at dinner, they shouldn’t have to take three city busses…to go to another community to make that possible,” the first lady said at during a White House event marking the new effort.

National chains participating in the partnership include Wal-Mart, Walgreens and SuperValu, which have agreed to open or expand more than 1,000 locations as part of the effort to eliminate what the Department of Agriculture calls “food deserts” throughout the country.

A handful of regional retailers are also involved, including Calhoun foods, an Alabama-based chain that currently serves low-income communities with six stores. The minority-owned company, which in the depths of the recession two years ago was forced to cut back workers’ hours to avoid layoffs, said they plan to open 10 additional stores in the coming years in currently under-served communities. CEO Greg Calhoun as well as Jimmie Coleman, a manger at the chain, were on hand for the event.

The White House says the collective effort will result in serving nearly 10 million Americans who currently have little affordable food alternatives to convenience stores and fast food chains.

Specifics of the new effort include pledges by Supervalu to build 250 new stores, Walmart to build or expand 275 new stores, and Walgreens to expand nutritious offerings in 1,000 stores – all by 2016. Walgreens CEO Gregory Wasson said the chain has already found high demand for nutritious offerings in the stores where they are currently available.

In announcing the effort Wednesday, Mrs. Obama said the project will do more than improve nutrition.

“Think about the difference we can make. Think about the numbers of people who will find jobs. Think about the neighborhoods that can potentially be transformed,” she said.

The Obama administration is committing $35 million to the effort this year and is proposing $330 million from the budget next year.

Topics: Michelle Obama

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. NVa Native

    Mrs. Obama has proven herself to be an outstanding First Lady who shows her devotion to our country through service. I'm sure the hypocrites of the right will attempt to slander her once again, but we all know that they are the lowest of low that deserve nothing but disdain.

    July 20, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Sandy Lester

      What? Mickey is an interfering hypocrite. She eats at the taxpayers expense expensive beef, lobster and whatever, she wolfs down BBQ, hamburgers and shakes then has the nerve to tell us what to eat. She needs to go away. She needs to stop spending taxpayer's money. NVaNaive, seriously get a clue and stop your blind following of her.

      July 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
      • Xwing

        LOL! Based on the size of her rear end, I'd say the Wookiie found the oasis in the desert.

        July 20, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • ingrid

      Jay in NIC and Sandy Lester–you two are ridiculous. Michelle Obama is an asset. I am sick of people like you who attack with out in any facts save that you just do not like MO. Sandy–are you serious that she is not allowed to eat food??? Because that is essentially what you are saying. And Jay–you just seem to not like MO as all I see of your posts are attacks without facts.

      July 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
      • Jay in NC

        Well, what I say is true, look it up, Walmart is larger than BP. And Barry and The First Date are spending our money to entice them to move into these areas. Call it a tax break, aid, or cash it does not matter, they are benefiting from the money.

        July 20, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
      • jean2009

        @ Ingrid ....Thank you.

        Michelle is simply involved, gracious and caring, and a wonderful role model. It is about time certain areas of some inter-cities have a well-balance full-service grocery store..

        And Sandy, it is Mrs. Obama to you...or do I have to apply a KKK moniker to your name, too?

        July 20, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • Alan

      She is at best a hypocrite. And not this is costing taxpayers at least $330 million new dollars next year at a time we are supposed to be in a fiscal crisis. It is only a crisis to Obama if he does not have enough money to spend to buy votes or gain more control over people's lives.

      July 20, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
    • ThinkAgain

      ALL Presidents and First Ladies eat at our expense; I don't have a problem with that. And they don't eat lobster and steak all the time, just like I'm sure all former presidents (including Bush and Reagan) didn't.

      The President pays for his own personal expenses; for example, if the president asks for doughnuts in the private quarters, he's supposed to pick up the tab as he is for his dry cleaning and other personal needs.

      Also, the President makes $400,000 a year; in 1969, he made $200,000. If the presidential salary had kept up with inflation, his pay would be over $900,000.

      Just thought you'd want to throw a few FACTS into your mix of regurgitate Fox/Limbaugh talking points ...

      July 20, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
      • HillBill

        As you say they are suppose to pick up the tab, but do you really think they do. Only if they are putting on a show for TV.

        July 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
      • jean2009

        The following from "Who Pays for the meals at the White House"

        "Like all presidents, Barack Obama and his family will have to pay for their own food while they're living in the White House. But does someone actually send them a bill? How does this system work?

        President Obama may have his own executive chef now, but when his family and personal guests eat what's coming out of the kitchen, he'll have to foot the bill himself. Luckily for him, though, the government picks up the tab if he's having a state function at the White House, which could get pricey since the White House's website touts that its five chefs can crank out dinner for 140 or hors d'oeuvres for over a thousand people.

        Does someone really keep track? Apparently, the White House functions like a luxury hotel in this regard. At the end of each month, the president receives a bill for his food and incidental expenses. Nancy Reagan was famously taken aback by this practice when an usher presented her first bill in 1981, saying, "Nobody ever told us the president and his wife are charged for every meal, as well as incidentals like dry cleaning, toothpaste, and other toiletries." (Once they got used to the bills, though, the Reagans loved the White House; President Reagan often joked that all the amenities made it like living in an eight-star hotel.)

        The president and his family get to pick what snacks they want, what brand of toothpaste they use, and what menu they want the chef to prepare for them, but it can still get a bit pricier than new commanders in chief expect. In a fascinating article in this month's National Geographic, former White House chief usher Gary Walters said that he couldn't remember any first families not complaining about the high prices of the food. Walters added that Rosalynn Carter was particularly miffed by the high-priced fare, which must have been a bit more expensive than what she'd been getting in Georgia."

        They also pay for maid service for the private is much the same as living in a well run hotel with maid service, food service, barber service, dry-cleaning, laundry, etc. It would be hard for the first family to run out to get a haircut, stop at a dry-cleaners, shop for groceries, etc.

        Read more:

        July 20, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
  2. YOYO

    i wonder what Rush and Fox news has to say about this one

    July 20, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • jean2009

      Who cares! Since when did he have anything intelligent to say anyway?

      July 20, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  3. Jay in NC

    They have spent $35 million this year and proposing $330 million next year?

    So now Barry is giving tax breaks, aid and cash to two of the largest retailers, Walmart and Walgreen's. Last year Walmart had revenues of $421billion. That is more than BP's revenue of $297 billion.

    Forget tax breaks for big oil, now its tax breaks for big food.

    July 20, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • PANDAmonium

      Where in that statement do you see that there are going to be tax breaks to Walgreens and Walmart... NEITHER of those two sell fresh items that Mrs. Obama has been advocating the past three years. If anything, it's tax breaks for SMALL business owners.

      July 20, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
      • Alan

        They Obama administration is committing $330 million to this effort next year. Do you really believe these companies are expanding in non-profit areas out of the goodness of their hearts?

        July 20, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
      • Jay in NC

        You say "NEITHER of those two sell fresh items that Mrs. Obama has been advocating the past three years." Well maybe you have not heard but Walmart is the largest grocery, fresh produce seller in the country. Walgreens has added fresh food to over 1000 of its stores.

        The money is being used to entice the big food distributors, not small guys, to locate in these zones.

        July 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
      • jean2009

        I live 2 blocks from a Super WalMart and they have one of the biggest produce and deli sections in this end of town, which has 5 supermarkets within two blocks of my door. But, we do have one end of town that could use a full service supermarket. Many of the people are low income and elderly who don't even have mass transit options.

        July 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • jean2009

      That is a small amount compared to the number of jobs it will create nation wide for inter-cities. Each WalMart store creates about 200 to 250 jobs, and they plan to expand or build 250 stores.

      This from the DSN (Drugstorenews website)

      Walmart, Walgreens, Supervalu join First Lady to combat food deserts

      WASHINGTON — First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday afternoon will be joined by corporate chiefs from Walmart, Walgreens and Supervalu, as well as smaller regional market chains, as she announces a new initiative to support the Let's Move! campaign, according to a Monday posting on the blog site Obama Foodorama.

      The three retailers have agreed to establish more than 1,500 locations serving food desert communities to make affordable, healthier food options more accessible.

      #In January, Walmart made the commitment to open outlets in food deserts, when executives joined Obama to announce their Nutrition Charter.
      #Walmart has set a target date of 2016 for establishing between 275 and 300 food desert locations;
      #Supervalu has pledged to build 250 Save-A-Lot stores in food deserts in the next five years; and
      #Walgreens has been adding fresh foods and produce to stores over the past two years, and has pledged to transform 1,000 stores into food desert stores"

      July 20, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
  4. AzRose

    I bet it has been a very long time since Mrs. Obama has been to a grocery store. Yes, it would be nice if parents could give kids the kind of food she describes but when the money is not there then you have to buy what you can afford.
    The price of food has gone up and up and up over the past few months. I bet that doesn't even occur to Mrs. Obama.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  5. NVa Star

    N Va Native is right and Sandy Lester and Xwing are two silly ultraconservatives who are probably overweight and jealous of the svelte First Lady (compared to them). Their ignorance and irrelevance are striking. They seem patently unaware that poor consumers lack access to fresh veggies and healthy groceries because the big grocery store chains skip over certain neighborhoods. Without spending any tax dollars the First Lady has achieved something great.
    But Sandy Lester and Xwing didn't vote for her husband so all they can do is fire off dumb childish cheap shots, which riccochet right back at them.

    July 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  6. ThinkAgain

    "Food deserts" – are these the really dry ones that catch in your throat?

    Once again, CNN, could you PLEASE hire some Web writers that actually KNOW ENGLISH?!?!?

    It's "desserts" you fools!

    July 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • jean2009

      @ThinkAgain it is Desert not dessert. An intercity "food desert" is a place that is devoid of grocery stores which handle fresh produce. A dessert is a sweet concoction. such as cake. that is served at the end of a meal.

      Some large cities have large sections of town where full service groceries, or supermarkets (which sell fresh fruits and vegetables) have not located stores. This makes it very hard for people, who live in those areas, to shop for fresh produce; because many do not own automobiles and rely solely on mass transit, or walking. The nearest shopping locations for these "food deserts" areas are convenience stores, and carry-outs which normally handle canned goods, and junk food. For some the cost for transportation to and from the supermarket outside their local are would be an obstacle.

      July 20, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
      • sara

        Thank you jean2009 for clarifying this to the ignorants on this comment. Know nothing, say nothing would be very wise for idiots

        July 21, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  7. ThinkAgain

    Remember Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" campaign? Were the folks (like Palin) who say Mrs. Obama is shoving her eat-healthy agenda down our throats (sorry for the pun) also upset that Nancy was telling us what to not ingest/inhale into our bodies?

    Just wondering ...

    July 20, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • jean2009

      Did you even think at all? Can you give one good reason for anyone to think refusing healthy food is a wise move?

      July 21, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  8. maikl


    July 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • jean2009

      To me it looked like a healthy dish of salsa...fresh veggies. Besides her rear is much smaller than your big mouth, and correction it wasn't a football game it was a game of women's soccer.

      She is definitely a good woman and a good mother. A wonderful roll model!

      July 21, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
      • Jay in NC

        Jean, to most of the world football is soccer.

        July 24, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  9. Sank


    July 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
    • jean2009

      See Sank the racist moron.

      Obama-Biden 2012

      July 21, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
      • Hugo

        . Now, if certain paietrs would step aside and let the well meaning people of Africa and their allies get down to business. But since we don't live in a fairytale, we just have to figure out how to circumvent all those who would rather benefit from the people's malaise than truly work to cure it (i.e. many African governments).Thanks for sharing your opinion.@ my world: Hey you! Well, it seems Obama and his family had a nice visit and Ghana enjoyed considerable, and well deserved attention. As to whether that, or even the countless analysis such as this, will make a difference, only time will tell, shebi?@ Gnaija: Can I just say, that i have missed your view on things. No lie. Especially as you summed up much better than I ever could have a main point that I did not execute as eloquently as you did (considering much of the confusion I am gleaning from some comments),"at the end of the day...perhaps his acknowledgment would indeed change nothing...but there is something powerful about acknowledging wrongs and opening/creating the opportunity for a genuine and honest path forward...",Thank you, I will add this to the post to help offer more clarification of my objectives with this post.

        September 8, 2012 at 10:08 am |
  10. LadyTigerTexaa

    Today, while shopping at my local Walmart I noticed an assortment of patriotic shirts donning the American flag and statue of liberty. I admit I thought the styles were cute and I was feeling patriotic when I decided to take a closer look. To my disgust the shirts were made in Pakistan. I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to vomit. A country known to be hostile towards America had their products on your shelves! Why? Why are you funding terrorists who want to kill our children? Please give me a clear answer! This country is known to harbor and protect the mastermind behind 911. This is insulting to every American citizen!!! I would like an explanation. Please. * Why should Walmart or the US government even pretend to care? Why don't they print the twin towers on the front
    Of a tshirt and print the blast victims names on the back
    For good measure. Made in Pakistan for your wearing pleasure, while
    Your country has no jobs... Brought to you by your Caring Government.

    July 20, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  11. OldieTampaBay

    BRAVO Michelle! Keep up the good work!

    July 21, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  12. sara

    Thank YOU First Lady, Michelle. We know all too well how "food deserts" affect the poor and elderly in this country. America! It's a shame! The elderly has to ride taxis to go 10 miles to get to a grocery store. Most of the poor doesn't have cars and I often wondered when riding the EL how hard for a parent to have to struggle with grocery bags on the trains and buses. America should be ashamed of itself. Without cars, a "run" to the corner store produces rotten veggies/mostly none at all. These people "substitute" more often with unhealthy foods. First Lady, YOU ROCK!

    July 21, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • jean2009

      Many of the intercity poor are elderly which adds to the difficulty in getting fresh produce. For the elderly transportation is even more difficult due to infirmities.

      July 21, 2011 at 9:46 pm |