Right Winger Michelle Malkin Calls LA School Food a “Nanny State” Flop

Well, it was only a matter of time before right wing commentators would seize with glee upon news reports that LA students dislike the district’s new, healthier school food.  In her post on today’s National Review Online, conservative pundit Michelle Malkin opens with this provocative lead:

The road to gastric hell is paved with first lady Michelle Obama’s nanny-state intentions. Don’t take my word for it. Schoolkids in Los Angeles have blown the whistle on the East Wing chef-in-chief’s healthy-lunch diktats. Get your Pepto-Bismol ready. The taste of government waste is indigestion-inducing.

Now, I get that there are those who would abolish the National School Lunch Program entirely, and I’ve addressed that viewpoint in the past.  But whatever you happen to think of the NSLP, a program that’s been in place for decades and currently feeds over 31 million American kids isn’t going anywhere any time soon.  So why is it that when someone advocates for improving the food served, they get mocked by right wingers as having “nanny-state intentions”?  I have some bad news for you, folks:  Nanny has been cooking away in the federal kitchen since the 1940s, and whether she’s dishing up Reagen-era cheeseburgers or Obama-era tofu, it’s all one big governmental handout.

Meanwhile, Malkin does grudgingly admit  “[t]here’s nothing wrong with encouraging our children to eat healthier,” but then goes on to decry the NSLP for its “massive increase in spending on nutritional improvements — from $2 million to $20 million alone over the last five years on fresh produce.”  Doesn’t there seem to be a disconnect there?  Kids are either eating healthier or they’re not, and if we want the former, that fresh produce isn’t going to arrive on lunch trays for free.

But the crux of Malkin’s piece is that the Obama administration’s support for school food improvements is actually a nefarious plot to increase donations from organized labor to Obama’s reelection campaign:

the federal foodie cops care much less about students’ waistlines than they do about boosting government and public-union payrolls. . . .

The unwritten mantra driving Mrs. Obama’s federal school-lunch meddling and expansion is: “Cede the children, feed the state.” And the biggest beneficiaries of her efforts over the past three years have been her husband’s deep-pocketed pals at the Service Employees International Union.

This really left me scratching my head.  Moving from chicken nuggets to brown rice cutlets benefits . . . the union?  If Malkin were attempting to make any kind of nuanced argument here, maybe she’d point to the fact that fresher, healthier food does often require more kitchen labor.  But to support her conspiracy theory, Malkin instead relies on this “proof:”

Big Government programs “for the children” are never about the children. If they were, you wouldn’t see Chicago public-school officials banning students from bringing home-packed meals made by their own parents. In April, the Chicago Tribune reported that “unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.” The bottom line? Banning homemade lunches means a fatter payday for the school and its food provider.

Hmm. . .  did “Chicago public school officials” really do that?  Kids in Chicago can’t bring lunches anymore?  That’s an outrage! Um, no, actually.  One lone principal, Elsa Carmona of the Little Village academy, banned home packed lunches back in April but at least one news source looking into the matter at the time could find no other school anywhere in the country following suit.  And then Carmona reportedly retracted her controversial edict one week later.  Huh.

The bottom line is, Michelle Malkin and I are so far apart politically that there’s no real point in trying to bridge the gap.  I believe we have a societal responsibility to provide federal food assistance to kids in economic need and she doesn’t.  Both are valid philosophical viewpoints.  But why is it that those so vehemently opposed to using federal dollars to improve school food never seem to object to using federal dollars to subsidize in all manner of ways the corporations manufacturing the junk food we currently feed our children?

That’s what makes me want to reach for the Pepto-Bismol.


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  1. says

    Bettina, I think the end of this post is spot on. I’m not sure exactly where I stand on the question of whether the school lunch program should exist altogether, but I am baffled by the “nanny state” argument against improving nutrition for children. Why is it ok that the federal govt subsidizes unhealthy food in a million ways, which then increases the health care burden on the country, but efforts to change that trend (and save money through improved health in the future, as well as redirecting funds from companies who contribute to the problem to farms/organizations that can help with the solution) seem to piss off the conservatives you would think would not want a population getting increasingly sick on the government’s dime? It’s so hypocritical, accusing the Obama administration of being too influenced by service employees as the food industry is so blatantly lining conservative pockets. Let’s all agree that the only objective of any government should be to act in the best interest of citizens, not lobbyists, and then act accordingly.

  2. says

    As a teacher with the LAUSD, I can tell you right now that the “failure” of the healthier food goal has nothing to do with the administration or “nanny states”–it has EVERYTHING to do with LAUSD going with the cheapest food vendors. The food is bad, because the vendors are bad.

    And to be truthful, the food isn’t that bad. My children have enjoyed the chili-lime chicken and orange chicken (direct quote from my first grade student: We had Chinese food today! It was scrumptious! [scrumptious was one of our vocabulary words that week, btw]).

    While not every menu item has been a hit, they are nutritionally better than the typical fare the kids have been served for the last several years. I mean, do you consider spaghetti and meatballs with corn on the cob as the vegetable to be a balanced meal.

    Michelle Malkin can bite me. No, really. She can. Thanks to the healthier meals at the cafeteria, I have less sodium, fat, and sugar than I did before! It’ll be good for her!

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Mary C: Apologies for the delay in posting this — I was out of town and (for once!) without my laptop. Thanks for sharing information from within LAUSD, and for making me LOL! I hope you’ll come back here and let us know how things progress in the district.

  3. Deborah Neyens says

    I was just catching up on my reading and saw the Huffington Post linked to your post in a December 27 article, calling it a “fine rebuttal” to Malkin (and it is). Congratulations.

  4. mom of 3 says

    I think my issue is that other people think they can dictate what my children eat. What if I don’t care if my kids get cheeseburgers and nachos for lunch? It isn’t anyone’s business how anyone else feeds their children. The fact that the NSLP wants to dictate that my child has to eat certain foods is the problem. Some people seem to forget that not everyone thinks like them-and it’s ok that they don’t. You live your life and take care of your kids and I”ll do the same. Just as we all have differing political opinions we also have different opinions of what food to eat.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Mom of 3 — I would totally support that argument (“don’t tell my child what to eat”) in the context of lunches YOU provide your child. I am something of a food libertarian in that regard. That’s one reason why I dislike the practice of in-class treats where suddenly other parents are assuming the role of feeding MY child, and it’s why I don’t favor rules that dictate what parents can pack in lunches brought from home. But the NSLP is, to put it bluntly, a government handout. No one is compelling anyone to take advantage of this social benefit. If you don’t like any aspect of it, don’t opt in. But if a parent chooses to let their child eat school meals, he or she has effectively consented to the federal government’s nutriton standards for that meal. And in that context, why shouldn’t the federal government make those meals as healthful as practicable, especially since the consequences of poor childhood nutrition — obesity, obesity-related diseases, health care costs, lack of military readiness — are all borne in part by taxpayers?


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