You may have already heard about a new Twitter hashtag that’s making national news: disgruntled kids are taking photos of their unappetizing school lunches and sharing them on Twitter with a sarcastic #thanksmichelleobama. A recent Buzz Feed post about the trend has already received an astonishing two million views.
Some of the photos shared by students are indeed stomach-turning. This one in particular has received a lot of attention, for obvious reasons:
I have a few things to say about all this:
- First, a word to the kids tweeting these photos. Um, guys, you know Michelle Obama’s not actually in your school kitchen, right? The First Lady supports common sense nutrition standards, like “kids need more fruits and vegetables,” but she has nothing to do with school menus (that would be your district) and she’s never instructed anyone to put disgusting glop on your tray. Whoever prepared the travesty pictured above probably should be publicly shamed — but that person isn’t Michelle Obama.
- This isn’t the first time photos of unappetizing school food have gone viral; last year I wrote a post (“School Food Gets Its Close-Up, But Is It a Fair One?”) about another, similar campaign. Kids griping about school food is a time-honored tradition that’s likely been going on for as long as we’ve had school food, and certainly well before we had cell phones, but that doesn’t mean all school meals are bad. In fact, some are pretty great.
- As I wrote in the post mentioned above, if you’re using a cell phone camera to make food look as disgusting as possible, you’re likely to succeed. Even when I use my cell phone camera to make food look good, I sometimes fail miserably. Here’s an Indian dinner I once cooked for my family including chana masala, whole wheat naan, homemade raita and chutney:
You’ll have to take my word for it when I say this meal was delicious, but I’m guessing few of you would want to try it based on this photo. And you can imagine how much worse this nutritious, home-cooked and mostly organic meal would have looked slopped onto a styrofoam tray and photographed under a cafeteria’s fluorescent lights, especially if the photographer were trying to make it look terrible.
- Here’s another example. This #thanksmichelleobama photo appeared in the New York Daily News and many other outlets and, at first glance, it looks awful.
But if you take a minute, you’ll realize you’re looking at some pretty benign refried beans with melted cheese, next to a tortilla. I happen to live in Tex-Mex country and can tell you that no extreme close-up of refried beans (especially when served with an ice-cream scoop) is ever going to look much better than that.
- But what annoys me most about the #thanksmichelleobama hashtag is how, predictably, it’s been seized upon by some on the political right in their never-ending campaign to demonize the First Lady for – gasp! – supporting science-based nutritional standards for school food. These standards were not her creation; rather, they were recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and are considered the “gold standard for evidence-based health analysis.” And, by the way, when Congress authorized the USDA to improve school food (which led the USDA to commission the IOM report), the sitting president at the time wasn’t Democrat Barack Obama. It was Republican George W. Bush.
Now let me tell you why I’m saying, without a trace of sarcasm and with profound gratitude, #Thanks4RealMichelleObama:
- In 2010, Congress passed the most sweeping overhaul of school food in decades, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). That landmark event might not have happened without the First Lady’s determined and vocal support of the law in the months leading up to its passage.
- Under the HHFKA, kids are now being served less sodium, fat and sugar and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, all of which is consistent with those IOM recommendations. Those changes are critical if this and future generations are to reverse current trends toward obesity and diet-related disease.
- According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “Our nation’s schools and schoolchildren are thriving under the new standards. School lunch revenue is up.”
- A recent Harvard School of Public Health study showed that kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch — and that figure is likely to go up significantly as the new standards become more familiar to students over time.
- A peer-reviewed study in Childhood Obesity found that, after initial complaints, kids now actually like the healthier school food. It also found that among socioeconomically disadvantaged schools (where school meals are of obvious, critical importance), administrators perceived that “more students were buying lunch and that students were eating more of the meal than in the previous year.”
- Under the HHFKA’s direct certification and community eligibility provisions, more economically disadvantaged kids than ever now have easy access to school food, which for many is their primary source of daily nutrition.
If you’re a Twitter user and agree that these significant accomplishments are worthy of some gratitude, please click here to automatically send this message to the First Lady, or use my hashtag #Thanks4RealMichelleObama with your own text:
Thanks @FLOTUS for championing healthier school food for all kids! http://ctt.ec/X418t+ #Thanks4RealMichelleObama #thanksmichelleobama
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