Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Rampell: Junk food lobby shouts down nutrition in schools
First Published Jun 04 2014 06:27 am • Last Updated Jun 04 2014 06:27 am

No taste for whole-grain bread? Let them eat cake.

Also pizza, french fries, doughnuts, chicken nuggets and whatever else American children’s prematurely cholesterol-clogged hearts desire.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

I’m referring, of course, to the battle over school meals. In 2010, alarmed by the growing girth of children around the country, Congress directed the Agriculture Department to make school meals healthier. The USDA soon issued expert-recommended standards that require, for example, more vegetables and whole grains and less sodium and fat.

These changes toward less-processed foods impose costs, as you might imagine. But the new standards came with additional federal funds. They were also implemented with strong support from the School Nutrition Association, a lobbying group that represents school food professionals.

Now, four years later, the association has changed its tune and is lobbying Congress to gut the new nutritional requirements by letting districts effectively opt out of them altogether. Judging from a House Appropriations Committee vote last week, Republicans look eager to push through the lobby’s demands.

Rest assured, the School Nutrition Association says this alimentary about-face has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that half its revenue now comes from industry sources, as its spokeswoman recently told The Washington Post. Or that the biggest sponsors of the organization’s most recent annual convention included PepsiCo, Domino’s Pizza, Sara Lee and Schwan Food, which reportedly sells pizzas to more than three-quarters of America’s 96,000 K-12 schools. (Pizza, remember, counts as a vegetable serving for school-meal purposes, thanks to the last time Congress decided to improve school nutritional standards.) Or that corporate members comprise a third of participants in the association’s annual legislative conference.

No, no, no. This is not about special interests. It’s about the children and their sophisticated, freedom-loving, nanny-state-detesting palates.

Children, it seems, are unhappy about the healthier foods, leaving carrots unconsumed, applesauce uneaten, whole-grain tortillas untouched. Or at least they are in some schools; more than 90 percent of schools "report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards," the USDA says, and the School Nutrition Association could not provide me with a comprehensive list of exactly which or even how many districts want to roll back the standards. The lobby group has, however, trotted out a few of its members to argue that schools are better off buying the cheaper foods that students prefer (and that the association’s most munificent sponsors just happen to manufacture).

"We can’t force students to eat something they don’t want," said Lyman Graham, food service director for school districts in and near Roswell, N.M., in a statement released by the School Nutrition Association.

Likewise: "The older students, especially, know what they want, and some days they simply don’t want a fruit or vegetable with their meals," said Dolores Sutterfield, child nutrition director of the school district in Harrisburg, Ark., in the same news release. "At about 25 cents a serving, the mandate to serve a fruit or vegetable has us throwing away money and making kids angry with us."

story continues below
story continues below

And finally: "The problem is that not all students’ taste buds are quite ready or receptive to the new meal standards," said Lynn Harvey, chief of child nutrition services for North Carolina’s Department of Public Instruction, in a conference call last week.

Children, as everyone knows, are the best stewards of their own diets. Especially children in the school districts that have been vocal about wanting exemptions from the new nutritional requirements. Just take a look at the childhood obesity rates in the areas where the three officials I quoted above work: Across North Carolina, 1 in 6 children ages 10 to 17 is obese, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health. In one of the New Mexico counties whose schools Graham oversees, more than 20 percent of adolescents are obese, according to the state’s health department. At campuses in Arkansas’ Harrisburg school district, obesity rates range from 26 percent to 36 percent, according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

So yes, by all means, let these kids’ delicate taste buds dictate what schools serve them and what taxpayers should subsidize — because after all, education is all about indulging children’s whims and cravings. Give the children what they want: cheap, processed food. And while we’re at it, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that kids don’t like homework, either.

Ending the nanny state can sound pretty enticing. Especially when you’re 12.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.