Whether you voted red, blue or purple in this week’s midterm elections, you and your viewpoints are always welcome on The Lunch Tray.
But there are times when political partisanship directly impacts the kid-and-food issues I cover and, unfortunately, that’s the case for school food reform. As the New York Times reported in a recent Sunday Magazine feature story, “How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground,” the School Nutrition Association has aligned itself with Congressional Republicans to roll back some key nutritional improvements to school food. Now that Republicans have control of both the House and Senate, it seems all the more likely that the SNA will succeed in this effort.
The mechanism for gutting school food reform in the short term likely will be the appropriations process. As Politico‘s Morning Agriculture report observed yesterday:
Now that they’ve secured the Senate, Republicans have a clear avenue for doing away with . . . the USDA’s new school lunch standards: spending legislation.
By 4:30 a.m. EST today, even with many individual contests unknown, it was apparent the GOP had wrested away control of the Senate from the Democrats and gained even more control in the House. Now it’s time for Congress to get back to work, and a top priority, when both chambers open for business again on the Hill next week, will be to address the current short-term spending bill that only funds the government through Dec. 11.
In all four approaches available to Congress for passing spending legislation, the GOP would have an opportunity to attach riders that could sink their least favorite Obama initiatives – either by defunding or otherwise weakening key policies.
Historically, the federal school lunch program has had bipartisan support. This makes sense given that all of us, no matter our political persuasion, have a stake in nourishing the next generation well. But now many powerful forces are aligned against school food reform: the processed food industry, which has a huge financial stake in the program and powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill; the need of school districts to make their meal programs break even; First Lady Michelle Obama’s vocal support of school food reform, which has politicized the issue for some conservatives hoping to score political points; and conservatives’ general distrust of “big government.” (See also this 2011 TLT post: “Why Is Childhood Obesity a Red State/Blue State Issue?“)
But it might be worth stepping back and remembering that the nutritional standards now at risk — more whole grains, lower sodium, more fruits and vegetables — were not the brainchild of President Obama, Michelle Obama or government bureaucrats. They were science-based recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, recommendations which were referred to at the time of their release as representing the “gold standard for evidence-based health analysis.”
Adhering to these standards is inarguably better for children’s immediate and long-term health. Period. And that’s what’s getting lost in this political fight.
Those of us who support robust school food reform must do our best to have our voices are heard on this issue and I’ll have more to say about that in the weeks ahead. But, in the meantime, it’s all the more important that SNA members who disagree with their organization’s legislative agenda make their feelings known. If you’re a current or former SNA member who supports the healthier school food standards, please sign and share this open letter. The deadline for signatures is November 30th. Thank you.
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