Tell us about your work in the White House on Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative and as an advisor to President Obama for nutrition policy.

Where do I begin! First of all, it was an honor of a lifetime to walk into the White House every day to serve the public on an issue so critical: raising a healthier generation of kids so they can reach their full potential. I never took it for granted. And could you have better (and cooler) bosses than President Obama and Michelle Obama?!

Most of my public and memorable moments were all about the kids: inviting young people to plant and harvest the White House Kitchen Garden and hosting a Kids State Dinner.  But most of the work was behind the scenes where we made historic progress on healthier school meals, modernizing the Nutrition Facts label to reflect the latest science, and creating marketing campaigns like FNV and eatbrighter to encourage fruit and vegetable consumption. 

Because I could go on and on, if you want to learn more, check out this great summary of our Let’s Move! efforts. It’s worth noting that a lot of our progress was made possible because of well, hard work, but also because we stayed true to our core goals AND allowed ourselves to not see boundaries, which is what PLEZi Nutrition is about as well.

What role does policy play in promoting kids’ health?  

Growing up in rural America, I learned early on how critical public policy is so that no matter what zip code you grow up in, there is a social contract to ensure fundamental rights, including to nutritious food. 

Case in point: school lunch.

The First Lady championed the transformation of the school food environment through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which updated school meal nutrition standards for the first time in 15 years and increased funding for the first time in 30 years. Through this law, American public schools offer healthier school meals and snacks for over 50 million kids. In addition, it increased the number of students who could get school meals at little or no cost. 

Why did you decide to start an organic fruit and vegetable farm and what was that like?

I’m a doer. When my husband and I ran a 22-acre organic farm and a 100-member CSA in west central Ohio, we were about as small and local as you could get. I loved it, and it was the hardest job I’ve ever had. With farming, Mother Nature is your boss, and she’s not consistent. And I grew up on a dairy farm so there were no romantic notions of what farming is like: I knew what I was getting into. (FYI, if you’re looking for a great workout, volunteer to weed or harvest at a local farm; you’ll never be more sore the next day.)

I’ve always tried to find where I’m most uniquely qualified to make a difference. Even though my heart is always in farming, I want to figure out how you take accessible health to scale. I co-founded a nonprofit called FoodCorps that teaches kids food education, builds school gardens, and brings healthy food to school cafeterias. And then I moved to working in the White House, building policies, programs, and partnerships. I worked at Danone to bring health through food to as many people as possible working with over 22 brands. And I’m proud to chair the PLEZi Nutrition Kitchen Cabinet to help transform the food industry.

How can individuals make a difference in this work?

One person can make all the difference! Each one of you reading this can create the change you want to see in the world. YOU have the potential to make exponential progress. You enable your families and communities to be better.

And we need you.

You may think this is soft and assumed, but do not underestimate the power of passion; the power of believing in what is possible makes progress a reality.

We dreamt up new programs, new policies, new products! All of this was made possible by caring, gifted, and passionate people who put kids first. Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for caring.

Thank you so much to Debra for sharing her experience and stories with us. We’re excited to keep collaborating with her as a member of our Kitchen Cabinet. Stay tuned for more right here on Nothing to Sugarcoat.