Playing Potato And Pizza PoliticsThu 17 Nov 2011
Story by The Food Revolution Team
Congress Messing with School Lunch Standards
The Food Revolution has been watching Washington this week, as members of Congress are sticking their fingers in the bowl and rolling back important wins that were achieved on standards for school lunch. French Fries, salt, and pizza: in. More leafy greens and whole grains: delayed.
We applauded the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which was passed just a year ago, and we were enthusiastic this spring when the Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new proposed standards for school lunch, based on the 2009 recommendations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Taken together, they meant more funding for school food, plus more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less sodium and fat. That’s why over 25,000 Food Revolutionaries submitted personal comments to the USDA, backing the standards and offering ideas.
Now, as the houses of Congress negotiate an agriculture spending bill, pizza, potatoes, and salt all look to be back on the menu, to the detriment of our kids’ well-being (1).
The potato lobby fought hard last month to lift restrictions proposed by the USDA on French Fries(known in the lingo as starchy vegetables), which are served daily in many schools. The USDA had set recommendations to limit the number of portions of starchy vegetables, including potatoes and thus French fries, in a step to tackle childhood obesity and provide an opportunity for other vegetables to be seen more regularly on the lunch tray. However, through lobbying which pushed against more than 73,000 individuals whose comments to the USDA supported these limits, and due to a state amendment prohibiting these USDA limits it now looks undeniable that potatoes, and therefore French fries, are back on school trays with no limits.
And that’s not the end of it - more last-minute changes popped up this week that would protect pizza and interfere with other proposed new standards set for school food. A new Congressional bill that looks likely to pass quickly will slow down reductions in sodium by requiring further study on long-term requirements, block whole grains by haggling over the definition, and help pizza stay on the menu by allowing two tablespoons of tomato paste on pizza to keep counting as a vegetable.
While we wait to hear more about the salt and whole grains, the pizza topic is currently a hot one! The new USDA standards proposed that it would take at least a half-cup of tomato paste to be considered as a vegetable, which no normal slice of pizza includes. The food industry is seeking to block those proposed changes and keep the current practice, so that a single slice of pizza can meet all the requirements for lunch: grain, meat alternate, and vegetable. Fresh tomatoes, OK, but 2tablespoons of tomato paste to count as one of the required vegetable servings for federally-subsidized lunch requirements to be met? Really?
Voices for Better School Food
Many are outraged by these possible last minute changes, including Mission: Readiness, a group made up of hundreds of retired military Generals and Admirals who have been raising alarms about the readiness of our armed forces due to current childhood obesity. Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of Mission: Readiness, recently stated in a letter to politicians:
"We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program. It doesn't take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.” (3)
Despite the meddling, the White House and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack still believe the proposed new standards are needed to fight childhood obesity. A USDA spokeswoman said this week:
"While it's unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America's children, USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals.” (4)
Opponents of the USDA standards in general argue that the government shouldn’t be telling schools what to serve, or adding more costs in a tough budget climate.
However, we ask: if are spending more than $10 billion a year to feed on average more than 30 million kids a day, kids who need a good, nutritious meal, shouldn’t we be giving them the very best possible?
As our friend Margot Wootan at Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) put it:
"They are making sure that two of the biggest problems in the school lunch program, pizza and french fries, are untouched."(4)
Find out some of our communities thoughts on what congress has said this week and ways in which you can get involved to improve the food served in your schools here.
The Food Revolution Team
(2) Mission Readiness
(3) Huffington Post
(4) Huffington Post
Images are taken from some of the worst rated lunches on our School Lunch Photo Wall.
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