How Did the School Nutrition Association Lose Its Way?

by Bettina Elias Siegel on June 3, 2014

How did the School Nutrition Association, the nation’s largest organization of school food professionals, go from being a vocal supporter of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to the moving force behind current efforts to gut that legislation?

Even the First Lady finds this flip-fop perplexing, reportedly saying at a recent gathering of school nutrition leaders, “Help me understand why, especially given the fact that the School Nutrition Association worked to pass the original changes in the nutrition standards. … If anyone can help me understand how we wound up here.”

Now two new articles shed some light on that question.  Jerry Hagstrom’s piece in the National Journal, “It’s Time to Protect School-Cafeteria Workers From Their Own Food Fight,” and Helena Bottemiller Evich’s piece on Politico, “First Lady vs. Lunch Ladies: Behind the Scenes,” both describe dramatic changes in SNA’s top leadership and platform, changes which are causing considerable dissension among SNA’s membership.

This background helps explain why 19 past SNA presidents recently took the highly unusual step of publicly breaking with their own organization to urge Congress not to roll-back healthier school food standards.  It’s also quite encouraging to me, as a school food advocate, to learn that SNA’s troubling positions are not necessarily shared by the organization’s members at large.

It remains to be seen if SNA’s efforts to weaken school meal standards are successful, something we may not be able to fully assess until the Child Nutrition Reauthorization is completed in 2015.  But developments like the past presidents’ letter, press reports like the ones above, and now-frequent discussions in the media of the organization’s ties to Big Food, all may leave the SNA wishing it never picked this food fight in the first place.

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[Ed Update 6/4/14:  The Politico link was changed to give readers access to the free version of the story.]

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Libby June 4, 2014 at 8:49 am

This could be a case study of expanding corporate influence in all parts of culture and politics. Thank you for bringing it to light.

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

Thank you, Libby, for commenting here.

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Befinne June 4, 2014 at 10:27 am

It’s better to have expanding corporate influence than federal government control.

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Michael June 5, 2014 at 3:18 pm

Befinne,

Expanding corporate influence is the reason things are the way they are, which is not good. Can you please explain how more of the same will improve things? Thanks for any light you can shed on this.

Michael

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Tom June 5, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Corporations look after themselves and only themselves, they are not benevolent. Many of the laws passed through the Federal government are written by or for corporations, so they have plenty of control. I’d like to see our government run with just a little bit less corporate influence.

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 5, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Agreed! “Pizza = a school food vegetable” is just one example of how corporations were able to hijack the government to the detriment of kids.

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Bettina Elias Siegel June 5, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Hmm. Do you really believe that? Do you want to elaborate?

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Gaylia Clark June 11, 2014 at 9:50 am

What a touchy subject. Let me tell you what I know as a School Food Service Director in Texas.
Yes, there are horror stories of school food. We have all been there.
In 2007 Texas decided we need to improve our meals. So we did. We got laughed at by other states because our regulations were so much stricter . No frying allowed. No candy in vending machines even when those were not run by food service. No sodas. Fat and serving limits on chips, pastries, ice cream and pudding. Only 1% unflavored and fat free flavored milk. Offer 1/2 cup fruit every day preferably fresh. Canned and frozen fruit in natural juice or water and limit those packed in syrup. Offer 1/2 cup of vegetables with no added fats, butter.Ketchup has never counted a vegetable in my operation and we laughed when it was even suggested. But we were allowed to serve foods students wanted to eat. This is the example USDA gave for the new meal pattern. 2 oz baked fish, 1 cup steamed zuccuni, 1 cup brown rice, 1 cup strawberries and ff milk. Imagine that on a students plate. (I wish I could afford 1 cup of strawberries for 2500 students every day. ) PK 3 children will not eat this. HS students will not eat this. I will not eat this. Who looses? Our students. If they won’t eat the food no one will succeed. I have struggled on menus that fit the regulations AND students will eat. We all eat with our eyes first. Brown spaghitti has no eye appeal. It looks like it has been sitting around for years. School Food needs to be the example of solid good nutrition. Everything in moderation is the best advice. 100% wheat grains? Who is making sure the students are getting enough fluid to process 100% whole grains? We only have these student for 30-45 minutes each day and that is if they eat breakfast too. There has to be a balance. Now USDA is saying we can offer sodas IF they are reduced calorie or calorie free. So artificial sweetner is good for them? We can give them gum as long as it is sugar free. Again what sweetened that piece of gum. And we can use fryers again. (We won’t because they were all removed.) This battle has to have some middle ground. Our society has become much less active. Our portion sizes are for Ranch Hands riding the range weeks at a time and eating maybe 2 meals a day. I could go on and on but will stop here. School food did not make your student fat. School food should be the example of good healthy food served in moderation and nutritionally balanced for growing young bodies.

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