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.
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