Tucked within an Orwellian press release touting its efforts to “combat child obesity,” the Texas Department of Agriculture has made official its lifting of a decade-old ban on deep fat fryers in Texas schools, as well as rolling back other common sense school nutrition measures.
This action was taken despite the fact that our state ranks fifth in the nation for obesity among high school students, and despite public comments reportedly opposing the TDA’s plan by an astounding margin of 105 to 8. Among those arguing against the proposal were respected organizations like the American Heart Association, the Texas PTA, the Partnership for Healthy Texas and the Texas Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (My own open letter to TDA opposing the plan — “Chicken-Fried Politics” — may be found here and my January op-ed in the Houston Chronicle may be found here.)
According to San Antonio’s My SA website, the eight comments in favor of the plan included those from:
Kona Ice, which sells sugary shaved ice drinks; World’s Finest Chocolate, a small number of school districts, and a company called TiFry that sells “a device that not only assists with reducing cooking oil consumption but will reduce calories in fried foods.” There was also this e-mail from a first grade teacher in Tyler, who wanted to “applaud” Miller for lifting the ban on deep fryers and sodas in public schools. “I could get my students to learn a lot of things just by promising them a Starburst or peppermint,” she wrote. “Thank you for taking a stand. School food is disgusting!”
Unfortunately, there’s nothing remotely surprising about this depressing outcome.
When our new Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, chose as his very first act in office a bogus “lifting” of a non-existent ban on birthday cupcakes in Texas schools, parents and health advocates around the state were understandably alarmed. And when Mr. Miller quickly parlayed that empty publicity stunt into an appearance on national Fox News, during which he made one gross misrepresentation after another but was nonetheless hailed as a national hero for restoring “local control” to districts, we all saw the handwriting on the wall.
In addition to rolling back the ban on deep-fat fryers, Miller has also lifted a decade-old ban on the sale of diet soda and caffeinated drinks to high schoolers, increased our allowed junk-food fundraising days from zero to six, and removed our common sense “time and place” restrictions on the sale of competitive foods. The latter change is in many ways the most troubling, because it means kids eating the nutritionally-balanced school meal (or their home-packed lunch) will now be tempted to ditch it in favor of packaged snacks sold right in the cafeteria during the lunch hour. And let’s remember: even the nutritionally improved “Smart Snacks” can include subpar items like these, which are hardly a substitute for a nutritious meal.
The Michael and Susan Dell Center has created a handy chart (click to enlarge) which graphically depicts the backward direction in which the state of Texas is moving, all thanks to Mr. Miller:
Whether Texas schools will become awash in deep-fried food and other junk food remains to be seen. The nutrition standards of the National School Lunch Program and the Smart Snacks in School rules still apply in our state, of course, and it could be quite hard to serve fried foods while also complying with those rules’ stringent fat limits. Moreover, a failure to comply with the federal standards could be noticed in a state audit, resulting in the imposition of fines on the school district.
But wait a minute. Who’s charged with vigorously enforcing all those federal rules here in Texas?
Yup. That would be Sid “Local Control” Miller.
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