Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Just Say No to School Lunch or How to put National Security at Risk in Three Easy Lessons

When I was in grade school (public) I loved my school lunch. Maybe it was nothing more than being used to it but I really thought the food was pretty good. And I came from a home where my Mom baked every day and cooked everything from scratch. So I tend to think that I had a pretty highly developed palate. Likewise, my husband, who went to a parochial school where his Aunt was a cook, has fond memories of the lunch food.

But in the last 40 years something horrible happened. I remember being totally disgusted whenever I got anywhere near my daughter’s public school cafeteria. The odor was a noxious plume of chemicals, some in the “food” and some used to clean up after it. They did make a stab at some fresh stuff--the obligatory salad bar which contained bins of “fresh” veggies subject to being mucked around with and breathed over by everyone who came down the line (picture little tykes with runny noses too short to even reach the germ shield) and punctuated with vats of slag parading as “dressing” consisting of more chemistry.

As Jamie Oliver has discovered in his ABC reality series The Food Revolution, the government is apparently at the bottom of this acrid turn of events. And it looks like the government might have the most to lose as a result. Today a number of retired generals are pointing out that the vast majority of our public school students are simply too fat to be admitted into the military. This, they note, is a national security hazard. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5humPJ-a8RbavZ8ZQPIFoihHcUimwD9F70OO80

I think we are beginning to discover that the government school lunch program has gone the way of government programs in the USSR. Hopefully we will soon have the same sort of epiphany that Gorbachev had and will break up the government monopoly and liberate the school lunch program, relegating it back to the local community where we can integrate eating policies that are derived from common sense and local food.

Ironically, the current school lunch program, which had been evolving since the early part of the 20th century principally as a means to match the rural hunger with the government’s supply of surplus, subsidized foods up until the Great Depression took care of the glut, got its genesis from the same military institutions that are now scared of it. During World War II, military leaders … report[ed] that many recruits were rejected because of stunted growth and inadequate nutrition…and pushed Congress to establish the national school lunch program ….
So where did we go wrong? Just follow Jamie Oliver through his visits with the elementary and high school cafeterias and you will get a good idea. First, there are a set of standards for food service issued by the USDA that are so voluminous the school district coordinator has to use a rolling bin to cart them around. Those standards are derived by people with an agenda that is part and parcel of our national penchant for rearranging every ounce of topsoil in this country to manipulate supply and demand in the agricultural commodities markets both locally and worldwide. So obviously the goal is to move certain foods. What else could be behind the mandate that each meal have not one but two breads? This school lunch standard is clearly derived from the government’s famous food pyramid, which we are finding out now, like most programs cooked up by the politburo, is literally upside down. It calls for lots and lots of bread.

Compare the old one above with the new one below (in classic revisionism this new one provides not an ounce of sensible direction). At least you could read the old one.

Now see the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid (contrast with the original USDA

Obesity is the cause célèbre among the public health gurus, the news media and, now, even the military. Here are some current stats on childhood obesity:
• 4% overweight 1982 16% overweight 1994
• 25% of all white children 33% African American and Hispanic overweight 2001. [FN1]

What do all these children have in common? The vast majority of them are in public schools where they eat breakfast and lunch defined by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards daily requirements which have more to do with what food should be moved through the system than any concepts of health. As Jamie discovered (and I witnessed through my own child’s experience) under that standard it is perfectly acceptable for the little darlings to eat pizza for breakfast and chicken nuggets for lunch (and many of them will have the same thing for dinner when they get home). I almost barfed when the school food czar told him that they were putting the pink and brown milk back in the school from which he had it removed because the USDA standard says it is more important for them to get the calcium than to even consider what all the sugar in that crap is doing to their little brains and adrenal glands.
It is not an unbelievable thing that year after year nonprofits organizations like the local Community Food Connections have to return to the legislature to direct the Departments of Agriculture to authorize the use of food stamps at Farmer’s Markets. Traditionally there are no subsidies for Farmer’s Markets and many of these same obese school children eat at home based on what the food stamps will buy.

When you think about it, why in the world is the school lunch program run by the USDA? One would think that the Department of Health would be the more appropriate location. But remember, we started this effort to find places to put subsidized crops. The same problem is at the root of the food pyramid. It is about the supply, and has no consideration whatsoever for what is the appropriate demand.
This is a classic example of how well intentioned massive programs promoted by the government almost always fail under the weight of unintended consequences. Never is the full panoply of variables considered in creating such policies for they are debated by the special interests that coagulate around a particular problem which may or may not have a direct relationship to what is the real consequence.
Perhaps if the Tea Party people started with taking back school lunch, the rest will follow. You never know what unintended consequences will crop up.

FN1: It is always interesting to me that while we are supposedly striving for equality in our country, the government persists in dividing us up by race on everything. What difference does it make when you are measuring kids obesity? Is there a scientific reason for this distinction? If so, is the genetic difference the same for Hispanics and African Americans? I doubt it. This is another example of nonsensical politics distorting the facts. If you group all kids together at least 1/3 of them are porkers. The info, by the way, can be found at: http://www.annecollins.com/obesity/statistics-obesity.htm

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax reads today's headline. And Easter Sunday was tax freedom day in Arizona-the date after which all the money you earn is actually yours. Ironic to me as I sit here paralyzed with fear as the clock ticks closer to April 15. We have already paid a ton of taxes but if history prevails it will turn out that it was not enough. This despite the fact that:

  1. I work almost entirely for the purpose of giving my money to a state- run educational institution for which I get absolutely no tax relief.
  2. I donate a fair amount of time each year to my local Superior Court for the purpose of helping people find ways to solve their own disputes without further burdening our court system.
  3. I have no available nontaxable retirement options because I am for the most part self- employed and the tax ceiling is so low it is almost not worth it, I would be better off just saving it in my mattress.
  4. Aside from getting a passport I have very little use for the services of the federal government: for example, I have no need for FDA protection-I shop local farmer's markets and use no prescription drugs, have no ability to claim unemployment compensation, that sort of thing. Obviously we benefit from infrastructure and are grateful for water, sewer, roads and the like but we also pay our monthly utility bills.
  5. We provide substantial support to other adults in our lives for which we receive no tax considerations despite the fact that in doing so the government is not been asked to bear that burden.
  6. We give hours of volunteer time annually to various causes for which we get no personal benefit whatsoever aside from doing our part for our community.
  7. I recycle everything I can; turn off the lights when I leave the room and even emptied my separate freezer for a time to cut my energy use.
  8. I am not upside down in my house and have no debt to speak of other than a mortgage.
  9. Once I had to call the cops because someone shot me with a dart when I was walking my dog down a busy street and a few years before that had a burglary when there was a halfway house in the neighborhood but otherwise I have not accessed the services of law enforcement. ( I threw this in given the headlines yesterday about some towns imposing a fee for the privilege of calling 911.)


There are only two of us and we pay our way and then some. Yet I am burdened with paying the way for many others through no fault of my own. The mere thought of having a tax bill on top of everything else right now is driving me crazy. Tell me, where is the incentive to contribute when half the people get off scot-free? And this is before Obamacare and the deficit payments kick in. What have we done to ourselves?


I got this analysis of the cash for clunkers program (another government "benefit" that we did not qualify for, as with all these programs there is always something in the fine print that excludes us) that shows how well all this tax money gets used. It seems pertinent in the context of having to pay.


Just look at how the stupid Cash for Clunkers car buyers got taken to the cleaners: If you traded in a clunker worth $3,500, you got $4,500 off for an apparent "savings" of $1,000.
However, you will have to pay taxes on this $4,500 of "income" next April 15th (something no auto dealer told you). In addition, you most likely traded in a car that was already paid for. Now you have 4 or 5 years of payments on a car that you may not have needed, and costing you more per month than the averaged fuel, maintenance and upkeep you were dealing with while driving your 'clunker'.


But wait; it gets even worse: You also got ripped off by the dealer. For example, every dealer here in LA was selling the Ford Focus with all the goodies, including A/C, auto transmission, power windows, etc for $12,500 the month before the "Cash for Clunkers" program started. Then, when the "Cash for Clunkers" came along, they stopped discounting the cars' retail price and instead sold them at the full list price of $15,500. So, you paid $3,000 more than you would have the month before... (Honda, Toyota, and Kia played the same list price game that Ford and Chevy did).


So let's do the final tally here: You traded in a car worth: $3,500; You got a discount of: $4,500 --------- Net so far +$1,000.


But you have to pay: $1,350 in taxes on the $4,500 (if in the 30% tax bracket) ---------
Net so far: -$350.


And you paid: $3,000 more than the car was selling for the month before ----------Net -$3,350 loss. We could also add in the additional taxes (sales tax, state tax, etc.) on the extra $3,000 that you paid for the car, along with the 5 years of interest on the car loan, but let's just stop here.

So who actually made out on the deal? The feds collected taxes on the car along
> with your increased income tax on the $4,500 they "gave" you. The car dealers made an extra $3,000 or more on every car they sold along with the kickbacks from the manufacturers and the loan companies. The manufacturers got to dump lots of cars they could not give away the month before. And the poor, stupid consumer. . .. got saddled with even more debt that they cannot afford.