Appearing on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Michelle Obama brought gifts to celebrate the 60th birthday of show host Ellen DeGeneres. In a shopping basket with the CVS pharmacy logo, the former First Lady brought wine, Metamucil fiber supplement, an exercise device, and a novelty Obama chia pet. The jocular DeGeneres accepted the gifts graciously. 

The Obama Chia pet features a likeness of Barack Obama sculpted in clay on which a sticky paste formed from the seeds of Salvia hispanica is smeared. With careful watering, the chia seeds sprout and form a halo of seedlings that grow on the clay figurine.

In 2009, following former president Obama’s inauguration, some stores in the United States weathered withering criticism for selling the novelty item. In Washington State, Rite Aid store clerks in Bremerton were seen removing Obama chia pets from store shelves. Orders had come from Rite Aid headquarters to remove the item. 

There were two versions of the Obama chia pet avaiable: one was dubbed “Determined” and the other was “Happy.” On the front of the pedestal holding the figurine are the words “Barack Obama 44th President USA,” while the side displays, “Yes We Can.” The box has the following message: “Hail to the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chief.”

That year, the Walgreens chain also pulled the Obama chia pet after receiving a few complaints. 

The originator of the Obama chia pet, Joe Pedott of Chicago, was mystified by the store chain’s decision to remove his product. In May 2009, Pedott was invited to a reception for Obama in Indianapolis. Pedott gave a copy of the Chia to Obama, and also posed for photos. Pedott said of the encounter, “He said, ‘this is a very nice likeness of me but I have green hair.’ ” According to Pedott, even Jesse Jackson thought that the Chia was acceptable. Saying that he marketed the Obama Chia pet to instill Obama’s message of “Hope,” Pedott said that he voted for Obama despite being a lifelong Republican. 

After Walgreens and Rite Aid pulled the Obama Chia pet, only K-Mart continued to carry it. 

Optimistic tone

When DeGeneres told Michelle Obama that she has felt anxious over the nation's political climate over the last year, the former First Lady struck an optimistic tone. "We have to be an open-hearted nation and that's who we are. And that's the truth of who we are. We can't lose sight of that. So, let's just keep living our lives like that every single day and forget what they're saying in Washington," the former first lady said. "We know who we are and I know who this country is," she said.

Despite the rancor expressed in some quarters, both former president Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have been muted in any criticism of President Donald Trump. Michelle Obama said in her interview with DeGeneres: "People are afraid but then there are people who feel good about the direction of the country, so I mean, that's what makes this country complicated because it's made up of so many different people from different backgrounds," she said. "I mean, we are this mosh pit of society and sometimes there's a rub." She continued, saying: "We show empathy, we care for each other, you know, we do have a lot in common. That's what it means to lead with hope and not fear," she said. "And that's all we have, is hope."

 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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