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Healthy eating movement arrives at national parks

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Samples of some of the healthier food choices now being offered to visitors at national park concessions. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)


Jonathan Jarvis

Jonathan Jarvis


The Obama administration’s campaign for healthy eating arrived in the national parks on Wednesday, as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, and Sam Kass, the White House assistant chef and executive director of the “Let’s Move” initiative, presided over a ceremony to sign the park service’s new Healthy Food Standards and Sustainable Food Guidelines.

The National Park Service serves more than 23.5 million customers each year at more than 250 food and beverage facilities operated by concessioners in 75 parks.

“There is no reason that you should have to take a vacation from eating well when you visit a national park,” Jarvis said at the event held near the Lincoln Memorial.

This summer, Jarvis noted, visitors to the parks near Washington will be able to enjoy items such as Chesapeake Bay crab cakes and, in the West, bison sloppy joes (which are lower in cholesterol than beef) and smoked bison, which were all served to the invited guests and tourists who happened by the food tent set up near the memorial.

Sally Jewell

Sally Jewell

The program is an extension of a “Healthy Parks, Healthy People Initiative” that the National Park Service imported from the Australian park system in 2011. Jarvis said adding foods that are lower in calories and sodium and without hormones had been “personally something of a mission” that was encouraged by his wife, Paula. He also noted that the park service had help from the White House and the American Heart Association in developing the new policy.

But as if anticipating criticism from members of Congress who consider food guidance from the federal government to be part of a “nanny state,” Jarvis added, “This is about choice. We are not imposing that you can only eat healthy food when you go to our national parks. You can choose hot dogs, chicken tenders, ice cream.

“Our national parks are renowned around the world for their breathtaking landscapes and important cultural and historical sites,” Jewell said. “Today, as part of the administration’s efforts to promote healthier choices, we are adding yet another reason to visit our national parks and increasing the number of healthy food options available to visitors at parks from coast to coast.”

Sam Kass

Sam Kass

“I am beyond thrilled at the leadership that is being shown here,” said Kass, adding that he wanted to congratulate everyone involved and that he is sure the first family will taste the food in the national parks in the months ahead. He noted that Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity has a “Let’s Move Outside” division.

Karen Nozik, an official of the National Parks Conservation Association, a private group that lobbies on behalf of the parks, said she considers the healthy eating initiative to be particularly important for the many foreign visitors to the parks.

Foreigners often have a negative view of American food, and not being able to buy any foods except hamburgers and hot dogs in the parks would create a negative impression of the country, she said in an interview.