This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.

Search form

The White House
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release

Remarks by the First Lady at Mayor's Summit on Food Deserts, Chicago, Illinois

Walgreens Store
Chicago, Illinois 

2:55 P.M. CDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, goodness.  (Applause.)  Keica, that was beautiful.  You know, we can just stop right there.  (Laughter.) That means so much to all of us, that statement.  So we're just so happy for you, just so proud.  Thank you so much for that kind introduction. 

And I have to tell you, I'm thrilled to be -- I'm so glad that we're doing this here, at home, in Chicago.  (Applause.)  This is just -- it's a truly wonderful homecoming.  And it's a good reason to be here.  And we're not just anywhere -- we're on the South Side -- right?  (Applause.)  On the South Side.  And I am just so proud and honored.

And I want to thank Greg for his leadership.  You can just see how much it means to communities, to families, to individuals.  So thank you.  Thank you for taking the lead.  Thank you for being bold.  Thank you for hiring tremendous staff who have the kind of relationships with their customers and with the rest of the community.  (Applause.) 

And thank you to all the Walgreens staff.  You all should be incredibly proud of yourselves.  This is a great day for you, to celebrate you and all you do, and for being from the community.  I know everybody is from this community as well.

And of course, I have to recognize my dear friend, and Chicago’s Mayor -- still getting used to that.  (Laughter.)

MAYOR EMMANUEL:  So am I.  (Laughter.) 

MRS. OBAMA:  Mayor Emmanuel -- Rahm -- this is tremendous.  We've been talking about doing this for a while.  I am glad that we're here.  Your leadership means so much.  This Mayor's Summit today is just an important step towards what we hope will be a national effort across this country for mayors and cities and towns.

And I also want to recognize Craig Herkert, who's here from SuperValu, as well.  Thank you, Craig, for everything that SuperValu is doing to bring healthy food into this city and cities across America.

And I want to thank all the mayors.  Many of you I've worked with individually.  I've visited your cities -- and I hope to get to all of yours.  I've met the kids in your communities.  We danced, we played games.  It is -- you are setting the tone for what this country can do for our children and our families.  So we should applaud you all as well for your leadership.  (Applause.)

So, of course, I can’t think of a better place to end this summit than here at this store in this community -- because the story of this Walgreens is a story that we want to be telling in cities and in towns all across this nation.  As Keica said, before Walgreens started selling fruits and vegetables and other grocery items, there were not a whole lot of convenient places for people in certain communities to buy fresh produce.  And a lot of folks wound up buying their groceries at gas stations at ridiculously high prices, not the right quality at times, or convenience stores, places with few, if any, healthy options. 

And I saw this growing up in my own community, you know?  Starting out with wonderful grocery stores and places to go -- you could walk down the street.  But slowly, but surely, as the economy changed, many of these resources just disappeared into thin air.  And this is true for so many communities across this country.  This isn't just happening here in Chicago or on the South Side.  In so many neighborhoods, if folks want to buy a head of lettuce for a salad, or some fruit for their kids' lunch, they'd have to take two or three buses, maybe pay for a taxi cab in order to do it, to go into a different community just to do the basics for their kids. 

And a lot of people don’t have the time, and quite frankly, they don't have the money.  That adds to the cost of doing the right thing for your family.  So what we know in our shop is that we can talk all we want about making healthy choices, about the food we serve our kids, but the truth is if parents don’t have anywhere to buy these foods, then all of that is really just talk.  And that's something that I don't like, is just talking about anything. 

And that’s why, last spring, as part of our "Let's Move" initiative, we brought together non-profit organizations and grocery stores, both large and small, and we asked them one simple question.  We asked them, what can we do, together, to start solving this problem?

And I'm happy to say that within a couple of months, we were getting some of those answers.  And that's important for the community to know, is that people do want to do the right thing, particularly when it comes to the health of our children.

Back in July, we unveiled a new collaboration with Walgreens and Walmart, SuperValu, Calhoun Grocer, and Jeff Brown of Shoprite -- and the collaboration was to build or expand 1,500 stores in underserved areas.  The Fresh Works Fund, which is a coalition of companies and non-profits, agreed to dedicate $200 million to this effort.  And altogether, these companies believe that they will serve 9.5 million people currently living in food deserts and create tens of thousands of new jobs.
And since then we have seen other companies get on board.  So it wasn’t just those first few.  What we had hoped would happen was that with that leadership of those first few, others would step up to the plate.  And that has happened.  For example, right here in Chicago, ALDI has promised to work with local farms to buy produce directly from the community, as Rahm has mentioned.  And both ALDI and Roundy’s are planning to open new stores as well. 

And the leaders of these companies are making these investments -- which is important for the community -- though they're not doing this just as executives who care about their bottom lines.  As Greg said, these folks are parents and they're grandparents, and they care about their kids and they care about our kids and our kids’ futures.  So they're doing it for the greater good because they know how big the payoff can really be on things like this -- and not just in dollars, but in the lives of our families and communities.  Stories like Keica's, they impact these business leaders. 

Studies have shown that people who live in communities with greater access to supermarkets, they eat more fresh fruits and vegetables -- surprise.  (Laughter.)  And that can have a real impact on the health of our families. 

I mean, truly, we all grew up in communities with grandmothers who cooked two, three vegetables that you had to eat.  (Laughter.)  There was no ifs, ands or buts about it.  But that’s because many of our grandparents, they had community gardens; there was the vegetable man that came around.  There were many other resources that allowed them to have access.  So it’s not that people don't know or don't want to do the right thing; they just have to have access to the foods that they know will make their families healthier. 

So these companies have really made a truly groundbreaking commitment.  And that’s why it was important for me to be standing here with these companies, with these mayors. 

But we’re here today because we all know that these companies cannot fulfill this commitment alone.  They can do a lot, but they need support as well.  We know that a company cannot just show up one day in a neighborhood and start building a supermarket.  They can’t just scout out an empty lot and start setting up a farmers market.  They need to meet land use and licensing requirements.  They need tax incentives that make it worth their while -- their business interest to make it happen.  They need public transportation that will bring customers to their doors.  And most of all, they need to understand the needs of the community that they want to enter so that the people in those communities will come. 

Keica comes here because Walgreens speaks to her.  She has a relationship with the people here.  And the only way that companies can get that understanding is to connect with those communities and understand where they’re coming from. 

And that’s where all of the mayors come in.  That’s where all of you come in.  And I’m not just talking about how you, as mayors, can help with things like zoning and permitting and public safety –- and all that’s critical.  I’m also talking about how you can use your bully pulpit -- your platform as mayors. 

And that might mean doing something like this -- convening other people, other non-profits, foundations, corporations to help pitch in.  It might mean mobilizing community support by working with civic groups and parent groups and health advocates and neighborhood leaders who are engaged with this issue on the ground, and making clear that everyone has a role to play on issues like this.

It might mean planting community gardens in your cities and towns, or bringing in fresh produce trucks, or finding other creative ways to get healthy food into more neighborhoods.  And that’s what Mayor Emmanuel has done here in Chicago.  As he’s said, he is bringing more urban farms -- and more jobs on those farms -- into underserved communities by passing the urban agriculture bill that’s created fish and plant systems across the city that sell their goods to local stores and restaurants that normally wouldn’t have been able to do that without the bill.  And that, in turn, is creating jobs here in the city.  So it’s very important work. 

And we also have people like Mayor Lozano, who’s here from Baldwin Park, California, who we worked with for a good part of the “Let’s Move” initiative.  And in that area, their motto is -- and this is a quote -- “Health is the heart of business."  Health is the heart of business.  And they’re proactively seeking out grocery stores to serve as anchors in new development areas. 

So the notion is you don't start a new development without the basics, like food and places for kids to play and to walk.  They’ve offered low-interest loans to these stores to attract them into areas, and they’ve expedited the paperwork so that construction can begin more quickly for these new stores.  And they worked with one grocer to design a new floor plan where healthier items would be more prominently displayed for shoppers -- because people know if they see it, they buy it.  So if we put the apples up front instead of the candy up front, that’s what mom is going to pick up, or the kids are going to ask for.

These are just examples that show us that success here doesn’t have to cost a whole lot of money, because there are wonderful ideas that can be implemented that don't require more money.  And it’s certainly not about government telling people what to do.  That is not what “Let’s Move” is about, and that’s not what anyone here is talking about. 

We also know that no one-size-fits-all solution is going to work.  Every community and every city and every town are different, but they all have one thing in common -- they all have leaders like all of you who have joined us today who have the power to make a real difference.  And really, that’s all that’s needed, sometimes, is a little power and a little will.

And if we think about it for a minute, just imagine what we could achieve if mayors across the country started taking on this issue.  Just really think about it.  Every mayor of every town, large and small, just said, I’m going to put this issue -- the health of our children -- on the top of the priority list.  Think about all the jobs that would be created.  As we’re seeing here, we just multiply that across the country.  Think about all the neighborhoods that could be transformed, because people want to live in communities where they have resources.  And a grocery store -- a good-quality grocery store -- is the first step.

And think about what it means when our children finally get -- all of our children -- finally get the nutrition they need to grow up healthy.  Think about what that means for the health of our nation -- the health care system -- when healthy kids grow up to become healthy adults -- adults who are less likely to suffer from illnesses like diabetes and heart disease or cancer, that cost us billions of dollars a year.

Think about what it means for our economy when kids have the nutrition they need to focus in the classroom.  Because starting out with that apple really makes a difference in terms of how kids focus and are ready to learn.  And what it means as they grow up into adults with the energy and the stamina to succeed in the workplace and to go on to succeed in life.  And if we transform children’s eating habits today, think about the effect that will have on how they feed their own children in the years to come. 

And that’s really why we start with kids.  Sometimes, grownups, we’re a little bit hard -- we’re a little hardheaded.  Kids, you start them out early, they don't develop those bad habits and they have the information they need for their kids. 

So make no mistake about it -- we’re not just making this generation of kids healthier, but we’re talking about the next generation as well.  And that’s huge.  That’s the kind of impact that all of you here can have; all of you here are having.  So don't underestimate the power of what is going on here, especially to the employees and people who live in the community. This is big stuff. 

So I hope that all of you will continue to lead the way.  I hope that the country and the nation that is watching will decide to pick up this issue and find a way to make it work in their communities.  Because I know we can make a difference -- we’re already seeing it.  If I can tell you how many kids come up to me and tell me that, because of “Let’s Move” they’re eating different, they’ve got their families eating different.  Kids lead the way.  They make us do for ourselves what we would never do on our own -- right? 

So we are making progress.  And with the help of our leaders -- the continued help of our leaders -- we can expand this in such a grand way, and really change the fate of our children and of our nation.

So I’m so proud of all of you.  This has been just a wonderful reason to come back home.  And let’s keep up the good work.

Thank you all.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

3:12 P.M. CDT