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The Michelle Obama interview: Healthy eating, Sarah Palin, fashion, and more

First Lady Michelle Obama greets reporters at a lunch interview. Standing, to the left, First Lady Communications Chief Kristina Schake. (photo by Lynn Sweet)

Served at First Lady Michelle Obama reporter lunch: Seared Rack of Lamb,Garlic Crust, New Potato Confit, Glazed Celery Hearts and Pan Jus with Walnut Oil Vinaigrette (photo by Lynn Sweet)

WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama talked about food (healthy and junk), fashion, Sarah Palin and President Obama finally quitting smoking in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday, pegged to the first anniversary today of her “Let’s Move” anti-childhood obesity campaign.

Mrs. Obama lunched with 10 reporters — all women, as it happens — who cover her the most, including the Chicago Sun-Times. These sessions are rare, only the fourth time Mrs. Obama has met with her print press corps since becoming first lady.

She sat for an hour in the Old Family dining room kicking off a media blitz over a seared rack of lamb to mark the first year of “Let’s Move,” which is the biggest item on her policy agenda. Next month, Mrs. Obama will be launching a new initiative dealing with helping military families. She’s not sure when she will jump on the 2012 Obama re-election campaign trail.

She sidestepped any controversy on Tuesday, declining to answer questions Obama has tackled about gay marriage, his spiritual life and prayer. Mrs. Obama deftly turned aside a question about Sarah Palin — a critic of “Let’s Move” program — into a broader discussion about her signature issue.


Mrs. Obama had a major demand when then-Sen. Barack Obama told her in 2007 that he was running for president: that he quit smoking. For years, he struggled to stop, even with the help of Nicorette gum. Mrs. Obama confirmed he has not smoked for “almost a year.”

She can’t pinpoint the date. “But I don’t know exactly when because he never smoked a lot to begin with. So I never saw him smoke, so you have to talk to him about — no, I mean, he’ll know whenever. I don’t have the discussion with him because it’s always been — it’s a personal challenge for him, so it’s not something that I can be like, ‘Have you smoked today, have you smoked today?’ But I know that it’s been — it’s been a while, so — and I’m very proud of him.”

Mrs. Obama said she never explored how he finally quit. “I haven’t really poked and prodded him on this because when somebody is doing the right thing, I don’t mess with them.”


Mrs. Obama defended the high- calorie White House Super Bowl menu, which included brats, kielbasa, cheeseburgers and deep-dish pizza. There was salad, she noted.

The point is balance, not deprivation, she said. “I like to talk about my obsession with french fries because I don’t want people to think that “Let’s Move” is about complete, utter deprivation.

“…It’s always about balance. And I felt, as a mother, if somebody came and said, “You can never have a hot dog or serve your child a slice of pizza,” we’d never get a handle on this issue, because I think that’s sometimes how people feel — that it’s all or nothing.”


“So in year two, it’s about doing more. More of the same. More partnerships. More collaborations. We’re looking for more corporations that will step up and implement new, big ideas. We want more churches involved. We want more parents asking for more information.”


Palin has taken a few shots at Mrs. Obama. In December, she incorrectly said Mrs. Obama wanted people to go without dessert.

Was Palin out of line?

“I don’t think about her in this initiative because it’s not really about … this initiative is about balance and giving parents the kind of advice and tips that they’ve been asking for.”


Obama last week at the National Prayer breakfast talked about his spiritual advisers; I asked Mrs. Obama about her religious life.

“I have a hard time talking about something that is so personal. At some levels it’s like all that we have that’s ours. So I guess the short answer is, yes, we participate in church. We have a spiritual life. It is important to us. Yeah. … I mean, it’s like talking about — some things are just mine, you know?”


Obama has all but endorsed former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.

“I’m not telling you who I voted for. I haven’t voted yet,” she said.


Mrs. Obama wore a sleeveless Marc Jacobs dress to the lunch. American designer Oscar de la Renta criticized her for wearing a British gown to the China state dinner last month.

Mrs. Obama said she continues to work with Chicago clothier Ikram Goldman; there had been some reports to the contrary.

“I’ve always bought clothes from Ikram. And to the extent that — I mean, it’s really nothing has kind of changed. It’s kind of interesting where these stories come from, that sort of thing. I didn’t do anything different. I didn’t,” she said.

As for the fashion flap, she said: “This is my philosophy. I hope that women learn to wear what they love … like to patronize American designers, and the vast majority of the clothes that I wear are. But there are a lot of other designers that have cute stuff, too.”