Lawmakers Fight To Keep School Lunches Cheap & Disgusting

Illustration for article titled Lawmakers Fight To Keep School Lunches Cheap & Disgusting

Spurred by concern over childhood obesity, for the first time in 15 years the federal government has proposed changes to the school-lunch program that would make cafeteria food less gruel-like. As evidenced by their notorious love of kissing babies, politicians are extremely concerned about the well-being of American children — that is, until giving them healthy food starts threatening their constituents' wallets.

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According to the New York Times, the Agriculture Department has proposed new guidelines that would cut down on sodium and potatoes in school lunches and add more fresh fruits and vegetables. It's become de rigueur for the food industry to protest government efforts to make food healthier, and this time it's already invested $5.6 in lobbying against the new rules. Food manufacturers grudgingly admit that eating less sodium and more fruits and vegetables is a good thing, but they say the government is moving too quickly and its proposals are too extreme. Everyone knows you can't just give kids better lunches, you have to ease them into it. We're not talking about Folgers Crystals here, and swapping a kid's tater tots for some broccoli could send them into a state of shock.

Lawmakers are also standing up against this un-American effort to work a vegetable other than the potato into kids' diets. A group of farm-state senators has already prevented the Agriculture Department from limiting the amount of starchy foods in school lunches (and the House essentially told the Department to come up with new recommendations). Studies have found that the starchy carbs can lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, says, "While potatoes do have important nutrients, the nutrients can be found in other foods." Yet, the National Potato Council balked at the suggestion that kids should be fed a wider variety of vegetables. They argue that potatos should still be a large part of the school lunch because kids will eat them, which isn't very sound logic. As a kid I was most interested in obtaining nutrients from eating large quantities of Dunk-a-roos, but night after night they failed to show up on my dinner plate.

Nutritionists say that the changes are long overdue, and argue that schools are supposed to be teaching kids healthy habits. They believe that if healthier foods were prepared in an appetizing way, rather than just presenting kids with lukewarm canned vegetables, children would learn to enjoy new foods. However, it seems that some people are unable to think outside the box when it comes to school cafeteria food. The American Frozen Food Institute is concerned that the restrictions on sodium go too far and they don't count tomato paste as a vegetable unless the serving exceeds a quarter of a cup. Corey Henry, a spokesman for the institute, says this is ridiculous because, "You would basically render a pizza inedible if you had to put that much sauce on it to meet the new standards, and pizza is a big part of school lunches." This is just a wild guess, but maybe the Agriculture Department's point isn't that pizza needs more sauce, it's that you shouldn't be showing kids that pizza is the cornerstone of a healthy diet.

School Lunch Proposals Set Off a Dispute [NYT]

Image via Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.

DISCUSSION

I love me a potato- I really do. But you know what happens when you eat too many potatoes? You start hating potatoes. Then you know what happens when you hate potatoes? You stop eating the only vegetable the school can provide to you.

Plus, serving kids these "kid" foods does more than just make them unhealthy kids. Even if they grow up and try to be healthy adults, they've ruined their palates and still continue to eat crap while they go work out and attempt to be fit. One of my best friends is this way. He's 23 years old and will only eat the following: Chicken nuggest/strips, hot dogs, fries, Hot Pockets/pizza/pizza rolls, grilled cheese, alfredo, and sometimes ramen/udon. You may think, "There must be more" and you are only slightly correct. He drinks gallons of V8 fruit juice in an attempt to get vitamins (and waters it down to cut down on that sugar! [Though really I think it's so his parents don't have to buy 50 gallons a week]) and also a Jamba Juice all fruit/veggie smoothie about once a week. He -rarely- will try anything outside of his comfort zone which, as you can see, seems a lot like a school cafeteria.

Not only is it a pain in the ass to go out for food with him, but he also attempts to be healthy by not drinking soda (though the soda I think is mostly due to acid reflux) or eating sweets and he also goes to the gym/runs. However with the god-awful diet of a bratty 5-year-old and a severe lack of vitamins, minerals, and proteins found in -real- produce and meat, he never really gets anywhere. Of course then he complains that he's out of shape or can't get past being "flabby" (though he isn't fat... somehow...) I just have to shake my head...