Concerned School Nutrition Association Members Send Open Letter to Their Board

SNA logoIf you’ve been following the fight over school food, you know that the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the nation’s leading organization of school food professionals, is the main force behind current efforts to weaken the new healthier meal standards.  It’s a rather surprising position for an organization with the stated mission of “advancing the quality of school meal programs,” especially since the SNA itself supported the healthy meal standards when they were first adopted back in 2010.

The organization’s stunning about-face was examined in depth in a New York Times story last fall; the factors leading to the reversal include a recent change in SNA’s leadership and its choice of a new lobbying firm.  Another factor is the SNA’s cozy relationship with Big Food, which funds at least half of the organization’s operating budget.  For more on that troubling arrangement, be sure to read this Beyond Chron piece by school food reformer Dana Woldow, this HuffPo piece by food advocate Nancy Huenergarth, and this critical post from Food Politics‘ Marion Nestle.

The SNA maintains that its position is justified because kids just aren’t eating the healthier school meals, causing districts to waste food and lose revenue.  That’s an appealing argument, but when Woldow probed more deeply into SNA’s own data, she found that the decline in school meal revenue started well before the new healthier meal standards were adopted.  Consistent with Woldow’s findings, the Food Research and Action Center recently released a study which found that the recession and an increase in school meal prices have been the true forces driving paying students from school meal programs.  Meanwhile, among kids on free and reduced price lunch — i.e., the ones who need the most nutritious meals possible — meal participation has actually increased.

Nonetheless, the SNA is likely to get a sympathetic hearing in a Republican Congress during this year’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization (or CNR), which funds the school meal program every five years.  Indeed, during the 2015 appropriations process at the end of last year, the SNA found allies among several conservative legislators, including Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who, at the organization’s behest, sponsored a “waiver” provision to weaken nutrition standards.

But not all SNA members agree with their leadership.  Last May, nineteen past SNA presidents took the extraordinary step of breaking with the current SNA board by writing their own open letter to Congress urging it to stay the course on healthier school food.  (You can read my interview with one of these 19 past presidents, Dora Rivas, here.)

Yet there was no way for ordinary SNA members who also disagreed with their board to have their voices heard in this debate.  So Nancy Huehnergarth and I created an open letter for any interested SNA members to sign, which I posted it The Lunch Tray last October.  It was a move that clearly rattled the SNA leadership:  within just 24 hours of my posting the letter, the board sent an “urgent message” to its entire 55,000 member base urging them not to sign it.  The clear implication of SNA’s “urgent message” was that anyone who did sign was not a team player and would seriously undermine the organization.

Nonetheless, despite this pressure from the SNA board, 86 courageous school food directors still stepped forward to sign.  (Their names may be seen here.)  The final, signed letter was sent yesterday to the SNA board by Miguel Villarreal, director of food and nutrition services for the Novato Unified School District in Novato, California, and Allyson Mrachek, nutrition supervisor at Fayetteville Public Schools in Fayetteville, Arkansas.   The letter reads:

We, the undersigned members of the SNA, respectfully urge the Board of Directors to withdraw support for any provision in Agriculture Appropriations or other legislation that would waive school nutrition standards.

We are deeply concerned that the reputation of our organization and its members are being damaged by the ongoing requests to weaken or waive school nutrition standards. While we agree that some aspects of the updates to the standards are challenging, we favor targeted and constructive solutions that do not involve Congress waiving school meal or snack standards.

We urge the Board to work with USDA and other stakeholders to identify and adopt solutions to challenges encountered by school food professionals.. We also encourage SNA to work with USDA to pair districts, which are succeeding, with those that are struggling in order to assist districts in continuing to move forward.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns.  We stand ready to support you as you identify practical and long-term solutions that serve both the needs of school districts and the health of our schoolchildren.

If the SNA responds to this letter, I’ll certainly share its statement here.

Finally, if you are a past or current SNA member and would like to stand with these 86 brave men and women, Nancy and I have created a nearly identical version of the letter which now speaks to the upcoming CNR.  The link to this new letter is here, and any new signatures it garners will be added to the current count.

Please consider signing and sharing this letter with your colleagues to stand up for healthier school meals at this most critical time.   Thank you.

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What We Missed While We Were Talking About Chicken (A Kid/Food News Round-Up)

While this blog was dominated by the discussion of Chinese-processed chicken in school meals, a lot has been going on in the kid-and-food-news world.  Here’s a quick roundup to keep you up to speed.

First Lady Addresses Problem of Junk Food Marketing to Kids

On September 19th, Michelle Obama convened a landmark summit at the White House to discuss the food and beverage industries’ marketing to children, a matter of great concern to me and many other food policy activists.  Representatives from industry and the public health and academic communities were in attendance  and the First Lady’s speech was widely lauded for its candor.  (See, for example, Marion Nestle’s recap here.)  But Michele Simon laments that it was the wrong Obama taking on the issue.  Whether anything productive comes from the summit remains to be seen, but kudos to Mrs. Obama for at least squarely addressing the issue.

McDonald’s Improves its Kids’ Meals — But With a Catch?

Last week McDonald’s announced that it was partnering with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation to improve its Happy Meals.  (Read the text of the announcement here.)  One of the commitments made by McDonald’s was agreeing to promote only water, milk and juice as the standard Happy Meal beverage, including removing soda from its menu boards.  But Casey Hinds of KY Healthy Kids decided to look at the actual text of the McDonalds/AHG agreement and found that soda can indeed still appear on menu boards as a Happy Meals beverage choice.   The Center for Science in the Public Interest cried foul.  And Marion Nestle pointed out that, at any rate, the promised Happy Meal improvements are going to be a long time coming.

Is Biased Reporting Hurting the Food Movement?

Food policy advocate Nancy Huehnergarth had a great piece in The Hill earlier this week pointing out how news reporting regarding food policy initiatives, such as the healthier new school meal standards, is often misleading and sensationalistic, which only harms those efforts.

WashPo Special Report on Childhood Obesity — Good News?

Last week the Washington Post issued a feature on childhood obesity and the degree to which the tide might be turning.  You can find all the collected stories here.

Sugar and the School Food Environment

The Center for Investigative Reporting has issued a today a good report on the lack of regulation on sugar in the school food environment.  You can read that here.

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Your Monday Kids and Food News Round-Up

As is often the case, sometimes there’s so much news out there that I have to share it all in one post!  Here goes:

Michelle Obama Muddies the Waters

The latest campaign from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which encourages Americans to drink more water, is being glassofwatermet with howls by food policy critics.  With her characteristic insight and concision, Marion Nestle explains why the Drink Up! campaign leaves much to be desired.

Chef Ann Cooper Defends Healthier School Meals

Last week, school food reformer Dana Woldow published an excellent take-d0wn of a widely circulated AP story that left most readers with the impression that the new healthier school meal standards are a big flop.  Woldow’s post got a lot of traction, including a share by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, and it also led other writers and advocates to publicly defend the improved lunch program.  One of those advocates is Chef Ann Cooper, aka The Renegade Lunch Lady.  Please take a moment to read her U.S. News & World Report piece, which urges us all to take the long view when it comes to changing the eating habits of a generation of kids.

Boston Institutes Universal Free School Meals

I’m belatedly reporting that at the start of the school year, Boston Public Schools announced that it will be providing free breakfast and lunch to all of its students, regardless of income status.  In doing so, Boston is taking advantage of the “community eligibility option” in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which allows schools with relatively high populations of socioeconomically disadvantaged students (40% or more) to do away with individual paperwork filings and simply provide free meals to all.  (This option has been granted to a handful of states since the passage of the HHFKA, and will be open to all qualifying schools and districts in the next school year.)

Why Shaming Hungry Kids Is a Bad Idea

Quite a few of you shared with me this recent interview on Fox News in which a school counselor said it was fine to deprive students of their lunch to create a “teaching moment” for parents who had neglected to refill their lunch accounts.   The interview was in response to a letter sent home by the Willingboro, NJ school district informing parents that children with empty lunch accounts would see their meals dumped in the trash.  Today on BeyondChron, Dana Woldow discusses the Willingboro incident, the very real problem of unpaid lunch tabs and what schools should do about it.

NRDC Takes on Food Additives

Many parents are worried about the possible effects of certain food additives on their children, and they’re often surprised to learn that the FDA does not test and approve each of the literally thousands of additives in our food supply.  Rather, a large percentage of these chemicals are allowed to be added to foods and beverages so long as manufacturers attest to the fact that they’re “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.  (To learn more about this surprisingly lax system, I highly recommend Melanie Warner’s page-turner, Pandora’s Lunchbox.  My recent interview with Warner is here.)  Now the National Resources Defense Council is getting involved in a new campaign to strengthen FDA’s oversight.  You can read more on Politico here.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 6,400 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Marion Nestle (Food Politics) Shares ‘Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory’!

I’m so excited to share with you today’s post on Marion Nestle’s influential Food Politics blog:  a write-up of my rhyming kids’ video about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory“!  Wow!

applethankyou

I also want to thank the many TLT friends – readers and fellow bloggers – who’ve continued to give the video a little push now and then on Facebook and Twitter.  I haven’t felt so passionate about any project since I started The Lunch Tray three years ago and it’s gratifying to watch the video’s slow but steady spread on the Internet.  Even more gratifying is hearing from parents and teachers who’ve told me how much their kids liked watching it — and that they clearly understood the message about healthful eating.

Thanks again, and have a great holiday weekend!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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A Neglectful Blogger’s Link Round-Up

I know I’m not supposed to be blogging daily anymore (to preserve my health and sanity), but it just doesn’t feel right not to share with you some of the many interesting articles and links that come across my screen at a rapid clip each day.  Lately, though, I’ve been playing catch-up on life – and laundry – after spending almost three weeks doing nothing but producing “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory.”  So please forgive this down and dirty “link dump” of articles and posts worth reading:

Dirt and Kimchee:  Your New Best Friends

Run, don’t walk, to read Michael Pollan’s cover story in last Sunday’s New York Times about the role of microbes in fostering human health.  While this topic might sound far afield of TLT’s focus on “kids and food,” you’ll soon learn that our “microbiomes” may play a role in some issues frequently discussed here, including childhood obesity and childhood food allergies.  Fascinating stuff.

Pay People To Cook?

Here’s a thought-provoking opinion piece by Kristin Wartman arguing that the government should foster home cooking through financial incentives and the tax code.

Is Anything OK to Eat?

I love this post on today’s Real Mom Nutrition blog in which Sally Kuzemchak is fed up with the culture of fear that surrounds food discussions on Facebook.  Just a few hours after reading Sally’s piece, I read on Facebook about the “dark side” of Greek yogurt (the production of which creates environmental toxins), reminding me of another recent piece I saw on Facebook about the “dark side” of quinoa (now so expensive it can’t be eaten by the native populations that grow it).  All of these concerns are valid, of course, but it’s hard to know what to do about them while still feeding yourself and your family well.  Sigh.

School Food Is Better in Japan (and France, and Italy, and Lots of Other Places)

I tire sometimes of sharing glowing reports of how great school food is in other countries, mostly because those countries’ governments give their schools far more funding than our Congress provides, and because those cultures often think about food in a very different way than Americans do, so their schools aren’t forced to fight the same uphill battles.  Nonetheless, to the extent we can learn anything from other countries, here’s the latest report about superior school food – this time in Japan.

Does Teaching Kids About Healthful Eating Cause Eating Disorders?

Christina Le Beau of Spoonfed answers with an emphatic “no” in this recent post.

Marion Nestle Tells It Like It Is

This is now a few weeks old but I wanted to share this Politico op-ed from Marion Nestle (Food Politics) and Rob Waters explaining – in response to another op-ed by a Republican Congressman – why it’s actually OK for the Center for Disease Control to tell Americans that some foods are, you know, not very good for us.

Happy reading!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Does Childhood Hunger Justify Food in the Classroom?

A reader named Sheri left a thought-provoking comment on yesterday’s post in which I asked TLT’ers to chime in on a parent’s question about eliminating food in the classroom.  Sheri pointed out that many kids come from food insecure households and therefore my desire to eliminate all food from the classroom (articulated most succinctly in my “Food in the Classroom Manifesto“) might be misguided.

Here’s what Sheri wrote:

I understand that some may be frustrated with food in the classroom, however we need to consider that for many, that food may be the only food they receive in a day. I am a mom and don’t agree with the junk food in the classroom either – my child has multiple food allergies, so I have spoken with our teachers about making the party sign-up sheets start off with a list of healthy options. I also educate about label reading and the dangers of processed ingredients.

But there is often other things to consider before you begin a campaign to stop ALL food in the classroom.

Before you begin a crowdsourcing campaign, I would dig deeper in your communities and find some answers (this may be difficult, but worth the trouble).

Did you know?:
Food Insecurity Facts (http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/child-hunger-facts.aspx)

– 16.7 million children lived in food insecure households in 2011.[i]
– 20% or more of the child population in 36 states and D.C. lived in food insecure households in 2010. The District of Columbia (30.7%) and Oregon (29.0%) had the highest rates of children in households without consistent access to food.[ii]
– In 2010, the top five states with the highest rate of food insecure children under 18 are the District of Columbia, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, & Florida.[iii]
– In 2010, the top five states with the lowest rate of food insecure children under 18 are North Dakota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Minnesota, & Massachusetts. [iv]

There was a recent article that addresses the frustrations and push back that breakfast in the classroom is receiving (http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/06/teachers-battle-against-kids-free-breakfast-classroom?cmpid=apatt-fb).

If you would like to better understand the full scope of the issue, perhaps a family movie (https://www.facebook.com/aPlaceAtTheTableMovie/app_190322544333196)

And here is my reply to Sheri.  After you read it, please feel free to jump in with a comment of your own on this important question.

Sheri:

Thanks for all of this valuable information

You may be a new Lunch Tray reader, but childhood hunger is a cause close to my heart, and one about which I write often here on TLT (see the many links below). Indeed, just recently I was a “Food Blogger for Hunger” in association with A Place at the Table, the excellent documentary film you cite above.

Here in Houston, over 80% of our students rely on free or reduced price federal school meals and it was precisely that issue of economic dependency which led to my interest in school food reform in the first place — and to the inception of this blog back in 2010.  It was also the issue that motivated my successful campaign against “pink slime” in school food ground beef last year.  And childhood hunger is the reason why I’ve always been a supporter of breakfast-in-the-classroom programs even though they can be, as you note, quite controversial — as such a program was here in Houston ISD when it was first instituted.

But I think it’s very important to make a distinction between “food in the cafeteria” and “food in the classroom.” The former is federally regulated and, thanks to the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in late 2010, great strides have been made in the nutritional profile of school meals. While we still have a lot of work to do in terms of reducing schools’ reliance on highly processed foods, children dependent on the federal lunch and breakfast programs (as well as after-school snack and even school supper programs) can and do have access to nutritionally balanced meals each and every school day (and throughout the summer where summer meals are offered.) That access is critical in an age in which so many kids, as you note, live in food-insecure households.

Food in the classroom, however, is another story.  This food tends to fall into three categories: food brought in for classroom celebrations; the use of food by teachers as a teaching tool or manipulative; and food handed out by teachers or principals as a reward for good behavior or academic performance.

In the case of classroom parties, an excellent 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, co-authored by Marion Nestle, found that the majority of items offered for class celebrations were “low-nutrient, energy-dense foods” such as cake, fruit punch, ice cream, Doritos, cheese puffs, and potato chips.  And while I know of no academic studies looking at the latter two categories of classroom food, in my experience (and in the reported experience of my readers), food used as a teaching tool and as a reward also almost always falls into the “junk food” category.

For example, I’ll never forget the day my daughter told me about an elementary school science lesson which replicated the circulatory system by using corn syrup for plasma, red hots for platelets and another candy — I think white Tic Tacs — for white blood cells. After mixing up this concoction for demonstration purposes, all the children were given a cup of it to eat.  Lovely.

Similarly, in prior TLT posts you can read all about how my daughter, now in middle school, was last year regularly handed 12 oz cans of Coke and full-sized packages of gummi bears for good performance in a language class, and how my son was given a jumbo sized Hershey bar for winning a school lottery. Those are just two instances of the many, many times in which my kids have been handed out junk food by a teacher as a reward.

Here’s my point:  I think we can all agree that even children beset by childhood hunger should not be consuming empty calories.  In fact, to the extent children are being fed junk food in the classroom, it’s likely they will then consume less of the nutritionally balanced, taxpayer-subsidized meal offered in the lunch room.  That’s not so critical for kids like mine, who can make up any nutritional gaps at home, but it’s quite detrimental for kids who don’t come from homes well-stocked with healthful food.

So given the almost uniformly poor nutritional quality of food in the classroom, I reject the notion that childhood hunger justifies its use.

That said, there certainly are instances of teachers in impoverished areas bringing nutritious food into their classrooms to feed hungry students, often paying for this food out of their own pocket. That’s entirely different, of course, though it still raises other concerns about classroom food, such as allergy issues.  Similarly, those offerings aren’t subject to any kind of oversight, so we’re relying on a particular teacher’s definition of “healthful food” – one with which we might not all agree.  I also believe that if hungry children have access to school breakfast, school lunch, and after-school snack (if not also supper, as we have here in Houston at some particularly impoverished schools), then even that sort of food in the classroom might not be necessary.

Let me know what you think about all this, and I hope other TLT readers will chime in as well on this important question.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 6,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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Your Monday Kid-and-Food News Round-Up!

Happy Monday, TLT’ers!

In the past few days, so many interesting news items have piled up in my in-box that I can’t possibly do them justice with individual posts.  So here’s a compilation of links you ought to check out:

  • As I mentioned on TLT’s Facebook page late last week, Whole Foods made big news by announcing it will require, by 2018, the labeling of GMOs on all products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores.  For proponents of GMO labeling who’ve had no success at the ballot box so far, this is a huge leap forward.
  • The Kraft food dyes petition started by Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food and Vani Hari, aka the Food Babe, is closing in on a quarter million signatures in a matter of days.  Media coverage of the petition continues, but no word yet from Kraft that it will ditch the artificial food dyes in its “blue box” mac-n-cheese.  I’ll keep you posted.
  • Bloomberg’s soda size cap goes into effect tomorrow in New York City.  The New York Times measures reaction, while Food Politics’ Marion Nestle argues that more, similar reforms are needed.
  • Food activist Nancy Huehnergarth has published a provocative open letter to Michelle Obama asking, “What the heck happened” to Let’s Move?
  • Here’s an interesting piece on food taxes being used to combat obesity in Hungary and whether such taxes really work in practice.
  • TLT friend FoodCorps is hiring.

Have a great day!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 5,200 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also follow TLT on Twitter, check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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The Farm Bill: A Link Round-Up

As you may know, the Senate is currently debating the next Farm Bill, a critically important piece of legislation which will have far-reaching effects on the way Americans eat.   (Take a look at this infographic showing how the 2008 Farm Bill has impacted the American diet — and our health.)

I’m leaving to experts the in-depth reporting on this behemoth (over 1,000 pages, with a near trillion dollar price tag), but I did want to share  some links if you need to get up to speed:

NPR has an easy-to-digest report on why the Farm Bill matters to everyone.

For a more in-depth review, check out this report by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Marion Nestle of Food Politics expresses her dismay at the bill’s lack of focus.

One of the most contentious issues is the switch from direct crop subsidies for farmers to subsidized crop insurance, a proposal which is currently dividing the Senate on regional lines.  More here.

But in an open letter to Congress, everyone from Eric Schlosser to Chef Ann Cooper argues that it makes no sense to provide “unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to industrial-scale growers who can well afford to pay more of their risk management costs,” and instead suggests

. . . . modest reforms to crop insurance subsidies that could save as much as $2 billion a year. Half could come from payment limits that affect just four percent of the growers in the program. Congress should use these savings to provide full funding for conservation and nutrition assistance programs and strengthen initiatives that support local and healthy food, organic agriculture and beginning and disadvantaged farmers. These investments couldsave billions in the long run by protecting valuable water and soil resources, creating jobs and supporting foods necessary for a healthy and balanced diet.

Doesn’t that make sense?

Meanwhile, the bulk of the bill’s cost — 80% — is allocated to SNAP, the federal food stamp program.  Senator Gillibrand of New York is fighting to restore a $4.5 billion proposed cut to food stamps, while Michele Simon of Appetite for Profit has published a report, summarized here, examining the ways in which three powerful industry groups benefit from (and lobby for) the food stamp program:  major food manufacturers, leading food retailers and the large banks which administer SNAP benefits for the states.   Until I read her troubling post, I had no idea of the secrecy surrounding the SNAP program.

And, of course, there are the usual political shenanigans.  Take a look at Wonkette’s list of some of the decidedly, ahem, non-agricultural amendments to the bill.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 3,300 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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NYC Mayor Bloomberg Proposes Ban on Large-Sized Sugary Drinks

As I posted on TLT’s Facebook page last night, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is making big headlines this morning with a proposed city ban on most sugary beverages sold in containers larger than 16 ounces.  The move would affect restaurants, ball parks, movie theaters, street vendors and other establishments regulated by the city’s health department.

Details here.  For my take, stay tuned.

In related news, FDA has rejected a request by the Corn Refiners Association to rename high fructose corn syrup the more innocuous-sounding “corn sugar.”  More on that development from Marion Nestle at Food Politics.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 3,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (or follow on Twitter) and you’ll get your Lunch delivered fresh daily, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also check out my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post.

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BREAKING: USDA To Allow Voluntary Labeling of LFTB; Branstad Requests Congressional Hearing

Meatingplace.com, a meat industry online publication, reports today that USDA has received and approved voluntary requests from meat purveyors to disclose on product packaging the inclusion of lean, finely textured beef.  Meatingplace.com is a members-only site but the relevant excerpt of the post reads as follows:

USDA has agreed to approve requests by ground beef product makers to voluntarily label their products that contain lean finely textured beef (LFTB) or similar products that have been the focus of media and social media reporting that has frightened consumers.

“Several companies have chosen to voluntarily pursue a new claim on their product labels that will allow them to clarify the use of Lean Finely Textured Beef.  USDA has received this type of application for the first time through the normal label approval process and the department has determined that such requests will be approved,” USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee told Meatingplace. “By exercising this existing option, these companies can continue to provide a lean, safe and nutritious product to an informed customer base.”

This is a clear victory for consumers who have expressed their concern in recent days that LFTB has been included in reportedly 70% of the nation’s ground beef, up to 15%, without their knowledge.  It follows on the heels of introduction of the REAL Beef Act by Representative Chellie Pingree, as well as letters in support of labeling submitted to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack by Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Sam Farr.

In other news, Iowa governor Terry Branstad has called for a Congressional inquiry into what he refers to as the “smear campaign” against LFTB:

The governor said he suggested an inquiry to U.S. Reps. Steve King and Leonard Boswell and raised the issue with Vilsack, a former Iowa governor. King and Boswell did not immediately return messages left Monday requesting comment.

You’ll recall that Branstad was one of the five governors and lieutenant governors who came to the aid of Beef Products Inc. at a recent press conference, which Marion Nestle described as “breathtakingly high-level—and perhaps unprecedented—support for the public relations troubles of a private food company.”

Stay tuned.

 

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Today’s LFTB Link Round-Up

Before signing off, I wanted to share a few links related to yesterday’s remarkably high-wattage press conference, arranged by BPI yesterday to defend its lean, finely textured beef, also known as “pink slime:”

Helena Bottemiller of Food Safety News has a good recap and analysis, including a description of some heated exchanges between BPI’s panelists and Jim Avila of ABC News, who has reported extensively on this issue.

Michele Simon, long an observer of the food industry and its response to public scrutiny, has incisive commentary about the event.

Here’s a photo spread of what this media outlet called  the “pink slime plant tour.”

Marion Nestle describes what it’s been like to be on the receiving end of BPI’s intense lobbying, and also questions financial ties between some of the entities involved.  As Nestle notes, “This is breathtakingly high-level—and perhaps unprecedented—support for the public relations troubles of a private food company.”

There were even t-shirts handed out at the event, bearing what I’m sure the beef industry hopes will be a catchy slogan:

photo source: Food Safety News

Maybe they should have just gone with Jon Stewart’s proposed name for the substance?”

 

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More on Big Food’s Marketing of Junk to Kids (Links! Studies! Videos!)

In the past few days there’s been a flurry of posting in the blogosphere about a topic much discussed here on TLT in the past — Big Food’s marketing of junk food to kids.

For those new to the issue, Big Food spends almost $2 billion annually on advertising processed food products to children, a viewing audience which, studies have shown, lacks the cognitive ability to evaluate these advertisements critically (see “Nothing Goes Together Like Athletics and . . . Doritos?”).  Children are exposed to an average of twelve ads for food each day on television, and many more via the Internet and mobile phone apps.

Past industry efforts at “self-regulation” have been toothless, categorizing junk foods like Cupcake Pebbles, Lunchables Chicken Dunks and Chocolate Lucky Charms as “better for you” foods that can be freely marketed to kids.  (For more, see “Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s ‘Self-Regulation’ of Children’s Food Advertising” and the follow-up links you’ll see at the end of that post.)

This spring, a federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) comprised of the FTC, CDC, FDA and USDA issued its own voluntary guidelines for food advertising to kids which would represent a definite improvement over the prior industry-created self-regulatory scheme.  But the food industry has fought tooth and nail against the implementation of these new guidelines, both by countering them with its own revised scheme (which still would allow the foods pictured below to be advertised, among many others), and also by gaining the support of House Republicans to thwart the IWG’s efforts.

So, now to the more recent news and links:

  • Prevention Institute has just released a nice little video called “We’re Not Buying It,” calling out major food manufacturers for their predatory marketing practices:

  • The excellent Fooducate blog has a recap of a study about the influence of television food advertising on kids and the degree to which parents can – and can’t – counteract those messages.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, here is a link to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s petition urging President Obama and others to support the Interagency Working Group’s voluntary guidelines.  Please consider taking a moment to fill out this petition and let government officials know how you feel about the issue.

 

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The Current State of Federal School Food Reform (And What You Can Do About It)

In the early days of TLT I used to post here as often as four or five times a day (really!) but sometimes a post was little more than my passing on a link to an interesting kid-and-food article.  Eventually I regained my sanity and I now use TLT’s Facebook page for that purpose.  (By the way, that’s why I ask readers at the end of each post to consider “liking” the FB page – it really does offer “value added” content to the main blog.)

But every now and then there’s a link that’s worth posting here, to reach all TLT readers, and I put this recent article by Marion Nestle in that category.   Nestle is a professor in the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University, and here she provides a concise but comprehensive overview of where federal school food reform now stands, almost one year after President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law.  The article is short but it will give you a good understanding of the current stumbling blocks to school food reform, including efforts of various food lobbyists to derail some aspects of law and efforts by House Republicans to get the USDA to scrap the law’s hard-won reforms entirely.

As Nestle states in the conclusion of this article, it’s imperative that we contact our legislators and tell them we are watching their actions with respect to school food.  To that end, I recently received this email from The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Action Center, a joint project of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  The email provides a helpful link to make it easy to contact your senators, urging them to allow the USDA to move ahead with the reforms contemplated by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

If you care about school food, please take a few moments to express your views to your representatives in Congress.  Thanks, all.

[Hat tip: PEACHSF.org for originally sharing the Nestle article on its Facebook page.]

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