Fed Up: An Open Letter to Michelle Obama

Want to fix the obesity epidemic? Here’s an idea: Let’s go after the dinnerware manufacturers that make huge plates.

Dear Michelle Obama,

To clear the air, know that I did not vote for your husband. Either time. But I believe in your fight against childhood obesity—make that obesity in general—and think I have a new tool for your toolbox.

You need to go after the dinnerware manufacturers that supply stores like Anthropologie and Williams-Sonoma. Backyard gardens with healthy vegetables are well and good, but let’s face it: Reality finds us loading up at the supermarket, loading up skillets, and loading up our plates.

I concluded that dinnerware was the problem while recently shopping for new dishes. I found two sets I liked, a plain white porcelain and a pottery selection with scalloped gray edges and subtle fleurs-de-lis, so cute! Then it dawned on me that what I thought was a charger platter was actually a dinner plate. The nice salesclerks measured the two options for me, and, as it turned out, one was 11½ inches in diameter, the other 11¾! I went home and took a ruler to my cabinets only to discover that neither of my choices would fit. Standard cabinets are 12 inches deep, but the interior only 11. Those new dishes would hang out like a dog’s tongue on a hot day.

I could purchase a decorative plate rack to accommodate them, or stack them in one of those spacious divided drawers that modern kitchens have and I don’t, which strikes me as ridiculous. Who needs dishes that don’t fit in the cabinets and require a cowboy ribeye and a baked potato the size of a Nerf football to fill them? Is it really necessary to consume a foot of food?

My mother left me a sweet set of outdated Lenox china, which I use only for family gatherings. The gold-rimmed “Starlight” pattern features wispy, delicate leaves and flowers, and the wee bowls sport curved handles on each side: positively dear. The dinner plates, mind you, are 10¼ inches in diameter, and we grew up plenty full of home-cooked food.

You’ll find this amusing: One of my grown sons asked where I got my new juice glasses, which were, in fact, my mother’s full-size beverage goblets! When did everything become too small? Why is everything now so huge? Five-thousand-pound Lincoln Navigators, 60-inch TVs, size-D fake boobs, 820-calorie burgers, and 16-ounce steaks. A medium soft drink at Arby’s is 30 ounces! No wonder we’re all so fat! I have gained seven pounds this year, which I keep blaming on my blood-pressure medicine (or possibly Fannie May dark-chocolate Carmarshes) when in fact it’s the fault of enormous plates!

I have enough to worry about without stressing out over dinner plates the size of manhole covers.

Consider the massive dinnerware at restaurants. Last week, my husband and I dined at Red Lobster (we have common tastes; shoot me), where I was served FOUR fried-flounder filets on a rectangular platter the size of a license plate. I ate two of them and couldn’t help feeling terrible for the two poor fish that died for nothing.

Speaking of popular dining establishments, have you been to The Cheesecake Factory? I doubt it, given the required trouping around of Secret Service guys, but it would be fun for Sasha and Malia, who appear to be pretty normal teen and preteen girls, congrats on that. Everything’s all happy and loud in there, and you can buy cheesecakes and teddy bears on your way out—but MAN, those portions! An entree salad might as well come in a washtub, and an order of chicken marsala includes multiple breasts atop enough bow-tie pasta to feed a soccer team. Now, listen. If companies didn’t make plates big enough to fit all this excess, then restaurants wouldn’t be able to serve it, right? Simple solution! A shame you haven’t thought of it.

Furthermore, I can’t get over a segment I saw on an afternoon TV show. (I’m retired now, with too much spare time. This will happen to you someday. You’ll see.) A nutritionist was demonstrating our decadent eating habits, and she compared a normal restaurant-size bowl of plain pasta to more than half a loaf of grocery-store white bread. I still eat the noodles, mind you, but, thanks to her, I’m not enjoying them nearly as much as I did before.

I’m proud to say, however, that I order the 6-inch Subway sandwich and am grateful there’s a choice between that and the full 12-incher. At Jimmy John’s, I request my sandwich in two halves, and then what do I do? Eat them both! I try to imagine the weight of the carryout bag as belly fat, but I have no willpower. Even without plates, we’ve grown so accustomed to gargantuan portions that we just go ahead and finish them out of habit.

I have enough to worry about without stressing out over dinner plates the size of manhole covers. What with bacteria on rice, Michigan lefts, and North Korea, I barely have time to think, let alone enjoy my life. We need to fix this dish dilemma, and you have the clout to make it happen. Petition the china manufacturers! Hold a press conference! Start a Don’t-Clean-Your-Plate Club! Boycott Pottery Barn!

In the meantime, I intend to return my new box of Ziploc sandwich bags (“40 percent larger”!) to the grocery, due to their increased capacity. Dagwood himself probably couldn’t finish what would fit in those XL monstrosities. If from your bully pulpit you decide my idea of regulating plate size doesn’t compare to your plans to restore school recess and institute exercise routines, the cabinetmakers had better gear up: There’s going to be a whole lot of kitchen remodeling in the future. Then again, maybe that’s not all bad: It might help your husband stimulate the economy.

Yours truly,

Deborah Paul


Illustration by Andrea Eberbach

This article appeared in the July 2013 issue.