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Why on earth would we want to lower the quality of school lunches just when we are starting to see progress in reducing childhood obesity? What's really behind efforts to roll back the nutrition standards adopted in 2010? As usual, the answer may lie in corporate profits.

I was a public school teacher for 20 years. At the beginning of my teaching career, schools still cooked hot meals for student lunches. Gradually this changed over the years, and school cafeterias instead began reheating processed foods, and the menu shifted to greasy pizza, chicken nuggets, tater tots, french fries, canned vegetables and fruit. I also saw my students grow increasingly overweight over the years- a reflection of the alarming obesity epidemic among our children that finally led to  changes in nutrition requirements for school lunches.

In 2010, Congress passed the Hunger-Free Kids Act. It was intended to help schools provide every child with a healthy meal during the school day as a means to fight childhood obesity. New school meal standards for school lunches were based on  independent, expert recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. Students are entitled to free lunches if their families’ incomes are below 130 percent of the annual income poverty level guideline established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and to reduced price lunches if the family income is  below 185 percent of poverty level. Currently, the federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $23,850. The program provides not only lunches, but breakfast, after school snacks, and summer meals for qualifying students. For many children, it is their main meal of the day.

In fiscal year 2013, federal school nutrition programs underwrote more than five billion lunches served to nearly 31 million students. Total funding for all nutrition programs sums to $16.3 billion in both cash and commodity payments in fiscal year 2014. School nutrition programs are one of the largest federal funding streams to schools.
90% of school districts are successfully implementing the new nutrition standards. According to the USDA, schools actually saw an net nationwide increase in revenue from school lunches of approximately $200 million. And best of all, students are actually eating more fruits and vegetables, and food waste has not increased according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health.
Feeding 30 million kids  every day. - School Nutrition Association website
Why is the School Nutrition Association lobbying to roll back the new nutrition standards? 90% of school districts are successfully implementing the new guidelines, kids are eating more fruits and vegetables, and the new guidelines have not increased food waste.  So what is this really about?
Today, the School Nutrition Association, on behalf of 55,000 school cafeteria professionals and the families they serve, urged Congress and the Administration to take immediate steps to provide school nutrition professionals the flexibility they need to plan healthy, appealing meals while maintaining fiscally solvent programs.- statement by School Nutrition Association
Hmmm..."Flexibility to plan healthy, appealing meals while maintain fiscally solvent programs."  The School Nutrition Association wantsto give school districts "flexibility" to serve "appealing meals" so that they don't lose money.

As the NYTimes reported yesterday

The School Nutrition Association, a group composed of school nutritionists, praised the legislation. The group, which receives financing from several food companies that originally opposed the nutrition standards, said the cost of the new rules had led to a decrease in the number of schools participating in the federal meals programs. The group said the rules had also led to tons of wasted food because children were not eating the healthier alternatives.
According to the SNA's cheery website :
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is the only professional association dedicated solely to the support and well being of school nutrition professionals in advancing good nutrition for all children.
However, as the NYTimes article points out, the School Nutrition Association receives financing from several food companies.  The SNA also has industry members. According to the SNA website, industry membership comes with some nice perks, especially considering that there are $16+ billion in federal funds going into school lunch programs:
Industry membership provides companies with multiple opportunities:

    Market products and services to school nutrition operators through SNA conferences
    Advertise in the award-winning School Nutrition magazine
    Sponsor events at conferences
    Attend education sessions at SNA conferences with school nutrition operators and your industry peers
    Become certified or credentialed, demonstrating a deeper understanding of nutrition in schools and strengthening client-vendor relations - SNA website

Industry members can sponsor events at the SNA's annual conference. Here's a few of  the industry sponsors of this year's SNA conference: Jennie-O Turkey Store, Smuckers, PepsiCo Food Service, ConAgra Food Service, General Mills Food Service, Kellogs Food Away From Home, Sara Lee Food Service, and Pacific Northwest Canned Pear Service.

Here's a link to a presentation at the 2014 SNA apparently sponsored by McDonald's titled "Partners for Progress and Innovation" that touts the nutritional benefits of Happy Meals.

Of course the same food companies who finance the SNA and hold industry memberships in the organization also give nice  campaign contributions to members of Congress. Child nutrition advocates not so much.

It's not over yet. Here's a link to a petition  to let members of Congress know that we don't want to put the interests of Big Food ahead of our children's health.

2:37 PM PT: A quick check of political contributions to House Appropriations Committee members from "food and kindred products manufacturing" shows $27,000 to Tom Latham, R-Iowa, $27,000 to Jack Kingston, R-Georgia, $15,900 to Kevin Yoder, R- Kansas, and $12,500 to Steve Womack, R-Arkansas. ( Contributions shown for the last two years of available data, Jan 1, 2012 - Dec 31, 2013, including contributions to presidential campaigns.) http://maplight.org/...

Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 6:06 AM PT: Let Congress know you don't want school nutrition standards lowered-
https://www.change.org/...

Originally posted to loblolly on Fri May 30, 2014 at 01:26 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A conservative relative just sent me an article (19+ / 0-)

    She was trying to prove that healthier foods are causing more food waste in schools; however the article titled " Healthier School Lunches- More Food Waste?" is actually the opposite. It's about 2 school districts in Wisconsin who say food waste isn't a problem for them, and that their kids like the healthier foods. Not surprisingly, they cite education about healthy food as key to their success.

    Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.- Molly Ivins

    by loblolly on Fri May 30, 2014 at 01:47:40 PM PDT

  •  I remember (9+ / 0-)

    those wonderful 'home cooked' meals were at school.

    "Just when you think you've lost everything, you find out you can lose a little more." Bob Dylan

    by weezilgirl on Fri May 30, 2014 at 01:51:14 PM PDT

    •  There was a big change in school lunches (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      weezilgirl

      from when our first was in school to when our last was in school.  Our oldest ate lunches actually cooked by humans at the school, and even the bread was made and cooked in that kitchen.  Sweets were made, but sold separately and for cash.  I used to go eat with her on Thursdays, Fried Chicken Day.  It was better than KFC, and cost about 1/10th what a similar meal would cost at that store.

      Our youngest wouldn't eat cafeteria food from the time he was in first grade until he went to college and had no mom or no kitchen to fix his lunch.  The cafeteria food in the 6 public schools in 2 states and 4 school districts he attended was execrable and included the usual mass-produced and reheated crap we have all seen and heard about.

      It only took about a decade for the change to be complete.

      •  Our cook (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dksbook, loblolly, dotdash2u

        made gigantic hot rolls, fried chicken, roast beef, gravy, real mashed potatoes, good fresh vegetables,  chocolate cake, yellow cake with chocolate icing, pies and OH! the peach cobbler was to die for. Fried chicken day was great!

        Jamie Oliver tried.

        All my grandchildren take their lunch now. They aren't about to eat something that isn't as good as the food they get at home.

        "Just when you think you've lost everything, you find out you can lose a little more." Bob Dylan

        by weezilgirl on Sat May 31, 2014 at 09:47:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Forgot something.. (5+ / 0-)

        I just saw a politician from Alabama, R, rip into the healthy meals programs. He went on and on about never seeing any fat children. He said "I wonder where those images come from because I don't see them". He managed to really knock the first lady.

        Kids are fatter now than ever. I see families walking around and everyone is overweight and it is due to poor food. You can look in their carts at the grocery store and see the junk food that people buy.

        "Just when you think you've lost everything, you find out you can lose a little more." Bob Dylan

        by weezilgirl on Sat May 31, 2014 at 09:50:22 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Ugh. Do you remember the name or city? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          FiredUpInCA

          I live in Alabama. If he doesn't see any overweight children, it's because he's not looking.

          I live in an urban area so food deserts are a problem. However, I work in public health research and travel throughout the state. I see overweight children in rural areas and small towns, too.

          Just because you're not a drummer doesn't mean that you don't have to keep time. -- T. Monk

          by susanala on Sat May 31, 2014 at 01:49:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped, rec'd, signed. (10+ / 0-)

    The article about "tricking" kids into eating better is really interesting. It's not so much fooling kids but using well-known marketing techniques to reach a desired result for a product. But in this case it's not to increase profits but to help kids eat better and form healthy eating habits that stay with them into adulthood. I can't think of a better use for the methods of product marketing.

    Normally when it comes to anything involving public schools I land on the side of allowing more local flexibility. But here it's clearly code for catering to the special interests of big business. They don't care about kids getting fat if their bank accounts get fat as a result.

    Just this afternoon I was at The Natural Gardener and overheard two of the workers talking about food. They were saying how they avoid foods with added coloring, sugars, or flavors. One guy said about sodas "Why would anyone drink that? Just drink water." I smiled in admiration of their commitment to healthy diets and thought "Kudos to whoever helped them realize the importance of eating well."

  •  Our cafeteria does mostly scratch cooking (12+ / 0-)

    and the new rules were kind of a pain in the ass, because of the calculations and reporting requirements. Every recipe had to be analyzed for nutrition, and all the reports had to be filed on the computer. Our scratch-cooking penny-stretching wizard running the school lunch program alas did not come with high-end computer skills. So, the district brought someone in to help with the compliance issues and get a system in place, and all is good now.

    Districts have this figured out. There's no need to roll back the rules.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Fri May 30, 2014 at 04:15:25 PM PDT

    •  Yeah, a good bomb calorimiter (down to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      commonmass

      say a hundredth of a calorie, and by that I mean a real calorie and not a "food calorie" aka kilocalorie) is what, a few grand?  And of course a high end mass spec can run over a million.  So yeah, compliance can get expensive if you have to do all the testing and calculations yourself.  But how else are you going to get the exact nutrition information from veggies grown in the school garden?

      You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

      by Throw The Bums Out on Sat May 31, 2014 at 05:41:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Impossible to exaggerate how evil this is. (7+ / 0-)

    Our toxic taxpayer subsidized factory food industry reaching into the school cafeteria to make sure kids are stuffed full of corn sweetener, soda pop and french fries from the get go.

    Creating the future customers for their nutritionally empty high-calorie junk food.

  •  3,000 meals daily fresh, organic, and big savings (14+ / 0-)

    I'm currently director of food service at a campus in Iowa. We serve 3,000 meals per day typically. We serve fresh, made-from-scratch, organic (mostly), vegetarian meals that cost us an average of $2.50 per meal (allowing for cost of food, labor, facility cost, utilities, etc.)

    We don't buy much from the big ag folks. We try to buy locally grown organic food. We actually work with local Amish growers to meet our needs for part of the year. Last year we called almost every apple orchard in the state to arrange for apples but not yet--so instead we buy them from Michigan growers. We've been doing this now for 8 years and it just gets better. So good nutrition can be done right, and on a budget.

    The shared subtle essence of human consciousness and the unity of natural law: two sides, one coin.

    by greenkrete on Fri May 30, 2014 at 09:19:33 PM PDT

  •  I've also read about studies showing that (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    linkage, commonmass, jan4insight

    better, fresher food leads to better behavior, when tried at high schools for high-risk youth, and even in prisons.

    © cai Visit 350.org to join the fight against global warming.

    by cai on Fri May 30, 2014 at 10:42:33 PM PDT

  •  I almost barfed when I saw the SNA quote in the (4+ / 0-)

    NYT.  Their name must have been thought up by someone like Frank Luntz.  Their website has a Pizza Hut ad.

  •  Important diary, thanks. nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    loblolly, dksbook

    Several different factors account for the spike in obesity in the population in recent decades. One is a calculation by food-industry executives to flavor processed foods with certain ingredients (e.g., sugar and salt), precisely because they drive cravings for this food. They change your brain circuitry to make you buy more of the food and overeat and you get fat. Food-industry executives make money by making you fat and unhealthy.

    This information comes from the former head of the FDA, Dr. David Kessler, in his book, "The End of Overeating."

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sat May 31, 2014 at 08:35:41 AM PDT

  •  I ate a child's lunch at a public school last (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    loblolly, jan4insight

    week.  I chose 2% milk (cold enough), cheese pizza (delicious; tasty, tasty sauce and whole wheat crust (probably white whole wheat)), sliced cucumber (fine), kidney beans (way to dry, but protein non-the-less) and an apple.  Quite filling!  Lots of kids were eating the lunches, some had brought crap from home.  Too many were drinking Gatorade - too much sugar!

    And I signed the petition!

    ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

    by slowbutsure on Sat May 31, 2014 at 09:57:30 AM PDT

    •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      slowbutsure

      90% of school districts are successfully implementing the new standards. Sounds like this school is doing a good job of offering healthier choices. Of course kids can still bring Lunchables from home...

      Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.- Molly Ivins

      by loblolly on Sat May 31, 2014 at 10:01:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It helps but I wonder if it (0+ / 0-)

    causes binge eating when school is out at 3 or summer.
    No one really has these kind of meals at home.  It is a subject to debate because my little one is just that.. Little.
    She needs to put on weight.  Not all the children are obese and strict diets at school is not for everyone.

    As a southerner, I can appreciate the old meals we had in school.  We had chicken,  I do not recall pizza.  We had green beans, dried beans, yeast rolls, even sloppy joes.
    We had fish and corn, hushpuppies, cornmuffins, jello, fish sticks, pork and beans, hot dogs and hamburgers.   We also had mashed potates.   The truth is....We did not have fast food after school.  We waited for supper, which was mostly from foods that were fresh including produce.  

    The school lunch program IMO is not the problem... with obesity...it is parents who stop by Wendys, McDonalds, and have no clue how to prepare a healthy looking plate.
    Moderation....
    I personally detest the new school program of food and for once, probably agree with Alabama on choice.

    Just how much Koch do Right Wingers want in their life? . United Veterans of America

    by Vetwife on Sat May 31, 2014 at 10:45:52 AM PDT

    •  I know that some school lunches served (0+ / 0-)

      by Los Angeles Unified a few years back had the entire daily recommended allowance of sugar in one meal, and up to 50% of daily salt.

      Local choice didn't work.  It resulted in canned fruit cocktail in a sugar syrup passing as "a serving of fruit".

      “Poor people have access to American courts in the same sense that Christians thrown to lions had access to the Coliseum.” — Earl Johnson Jr., retired justice,California State Court of Appeal

      by JesseCW on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 12:56:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  SNAP is also affected by the food lobby (0+ / 0-)

    when i was on foodstamps i could totally blow them on potato chips, ice cream, soda & candy.  

    But if i wanted toothpaste, laundry detergent, deoderant or shampoo (you know; job hunting stuff) I had to scrape up cash.

    For me, its very hard to argue for govt. assistance when such potential misuse of aid is clear.

    elipsii: helping the masses express aposiopesis for...

    by bnasley on Sat May 31, 2014 at 10:59:00 AM PDT

  •  You want a First Lady who has harmed ourfreedom (0+ / 0-)

    I give you Nancy Reagan and the War on Civil Liberties Drugs.

    Bello ne credite, Americani; quidquid id est, timeo Republicanos et securitatem ferentes.

    by Sura 109 on Sat May 31, 2014 at 11:35:38 AM PDT

  •  Any kind of food would be sold. (0+ / 0-)

    I don't understand why the food industry cares from a marketing standpoint what the kids eat.  They can either sell healthy food or sell junk and make money either way.

    I substitute teach and buy school lunches because I'm too lazy to make and bring my own.  They seem to balance the food groups but care less about things like fat content.  Schools should offer only healthy food, but what's crazy is forcing the kids to take what they know they won't eat.  I have heard lunch ladies tell kids point blank that they can throw something away they don't like, but are required by state law to at least put it on their tray - how wasteful!

    •  More processing = more profits (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JesseCW

      For one thing, processing allows the food industry to increase the shelf life of foods- for example canned fruit vs fresh fruit, or tater tots vs potatoes.  Processing also allows the use of cheap ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. And processed foods are  engineered to appeal to food  cravings because of their sugar, fat and salt content.

      Good thing we've still got politics in Texas -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented.- Molly Ivins

      by loblolly on Sat May 31, 2014 at 03:36:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  If nobody in America overate, they'd lose (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      loblolly

      tens of billions a year.

      They're making a lot of money selling us a lot of excess calories, and charging us a premium for the cheapest of ingredients.

      We're at the point now that they want to replace the fat in our cookies with corn syrup because the corn syrup is 1/3rd the price....but is also less filing by the gram, which will get us to consume more.

      Food waste just isn't a real issue.  It's a very small part of overall cost, and it surely isn't causing hunger.  The apple a kid might not want just might be eaten by their tablemate who didn't get dinner last night.

      “Poor people have access to American courts in the same sense that Christians thrown to lions had access to the Coliseum.” — Earl Johnson Jr., retired justice,California State Court of Appeal

      by JesseCW on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 01:01:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Garbage in, garbage out (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dotdash2u

    We feed our children slop and wonder why they are overweight and can't tell a grapefruit from a head of cabbage.

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 09:39:05 AM PDT

  •  The school lunch (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    loblolly

    was sometimes the only decent meal I had. The thought that it is no longer being cooked fresh is just crazy.

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