First Lady Michelle Obama wants public schools to quit complaining about her new “healthier” lunch standards, and to stick to the program that has left students starving and schools losing money since it was implemented in 2010.
Mrs. Obama made her views known as the House Appropriations Committee considered a plan this week to allow schools to opt out of the federal lunch standards if they’ve lost money for six months.
School lunch directors from across the country have complained in recent years about drastic drops in revenue tied to the standards that force students to take food they don’t want, and tend to throw away. Some districts have even dumped the federal lunch program altogether, opting to go it alone without federal assistance.
Student revolts – including a viral YouTube video – also erupted in several districts as students have dumped their lunches into overflowing garbage cans, rather than choke down the unappetizing food.
The First Lady said legislation drafted by Congressional Republicans to allow waivers from the ironically named Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act is “unacceptable to me not just as a first lady but also as a mother,” The Washington Post reports.
Obama, joining forces with 19 past presidents of the School Nutrition Association, urged lawmakers to reject the waiver plan and to “maintain strong standards in all schools.” In other words, the First Lady wants public schools to shut up and eat their vegetables, regardless of what it means for students or their school’s lunch program. They contend that science proves the new standards are effectively combating childhood obesity.
Current SNA leaders, along with school nutrition directors from across the country, told lawmakers just the opposite. They said continuing on with the revenue-killing “healthy” lunches is unacceptable.
“We can’t force students to eat something they don’t want,” said Lyman Graham, a food service director from New Mexico, according to the Post. “With sky-high produce costs, we simply cannot afford to feed our trash cans. Every penny spent on whole grains and produce needs to go into the mouth of a hungry child.”
SNA President Leah Schmidt said “the administration’s own data proves that student participation in school lunch is abruptly down in 48 states despite rising school enrollment and 30 years of steady program growth,” the Post reports.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already relaxed requirements on whole grain pasta and other standards, but Schmidt contends “school meal programs need more flexibility.”
The lunch program waivers are part of an agriculture spending bill that passed out of the House Appropriations Committee Thursday. The Committee rejected an amendment proposed by Democrats to scrap the waiver language, Fox News reports.
The Democrat-controlled Senate, of course, did not include the waivers as part of its version of the spending bill, which likely means the issue will cause another massive food fight in the future.
The First Lady is certainly entitled to her opinion about nutrition, but she’s neither an expert nor an elected official held accountable by the public. Her opinion is just that, and should be given the same weight by lawmakers as the opinion of any other mother – many of whom have complained to school officials that their children are binge eating when they get home, or starving during after school sports practices.
If the new standards are truly working to combat childhood obesity, it’s likely because students are eating less at school because they don’t like what’s in the lunch line. That’s not “healthy” and it means kids certainly are not “hunger-free.”