Friday, January 27, 2012

Obama To Squander $3.2 Billion For Healthier School Meals Over Five Years Even While L.A. School Students Throw Healthy Meals In The Garbage

Get ready to take a crowbar and pry open that wallet a bit wider, Mr. and Ms. Taxpayer. The Obama Administration wants to squander $3.2 billion of our money promoting healthier school meals during the next five years, and intend to impose it as an underfunded mandate upon the states, although costs will be offset in part by a reimbursement increase of 6 cents per meal.

Specifically, the Administration proposes an overhaul of U.S. school meal standards that replaces breaded patties and canned fruit with fresh tomatoes and chef salad. The new standards will drop a daily requirement for meat or a meat alternative with breakfast and require more fruit and food rich in whole grains. It will be the first major change to school meals in 15 years. Read the U.S. Department of Agriculture's full press release HERE, and read the 80-page explanation of the new rules HERE (takes about three minutes to download).

Chief Food Nazi Michelle Obama offered an explanation, saying “As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet. When you’re putting in all that effort, the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.” Of course, Michelle failed to mention that parents could maintain that control by sending their kids to school with a PACKED LUNCH, the way many students did when I went through school in the 1960s.

Reaction from the food industry is mixed. While the American Frozen Food Institute, which represents 90 percent of U.S. frozen-food production, praised the proposal, a 2011 survey by the Washington-based National Potato Council indicated that 60 percent of district-school food-service directors expected costs to increase and more food to be wasted under the proposal. The Council's pessimism is justified, considering that U.S. schools served 2.9 billion free lunches, about 500 million reduced price lunches and only 1.8 billion full-price lunches as part of the National School Lunch Program in fiscal 2010. We taxpayers pay for those free and reduced-price lunches; in March 2011, then-school board candidate Bob Griffin disclosed that 42 percent of Anchorage School District students received free or reduced-price meals.

The experience of the Los Angeles Unified School District does not portend success for this new healthy foods campaign. LAUSD introduced a new healthful menu at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year in which they got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food said to be high in fat, sugar and sodium, and substituted vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads, pad Thai noodles, black bean burgers, tostada salad, fresh pears and other similar healthful items. The result: Many of the meals have been rejected en masse, participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students, and principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they're suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving. As a result, LAUSD is now backtracking, getting rid of beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads, and putting hamburgers and pizzas back on the menu.

In the past, LAUSD has offered uneaten school meals to non-profit agencies that feed the needy in the local area, so it isn't a total loss. But it's still one hell of a waste. Obesity isn't merely a food consumption issues; it's also exacerbated by lack of physical exercise.

So how did LAUSD embrace such a radical change? Pressure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, both of which gave awards to LAUSD for improving its school lunches last week. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a misnomer, though; an examination indicates that it is an extremist organization promoting vegetarianism and even an outright vegan lifestyle, which precludes both meat and dairy. PCRM also maintains active ties with another extremist group, PETA. So LAUSD embraced an extremist agenda, and paid the price. Or, more specifically, citizens whose tax dollars pay for LAUSD's operations paid the price, subsidizing massive food waste by students.

It will be interesting to see how the Anchorage School District and other Alaska school districts respond to these new guidelines -- and whether they'll be more successful than LAUSD.

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