How do you make those awful school lunches you were served kindergarten through 12th grade worse (especially for those of you who attended public school)?
You try to turn bulk quantity “unhealthy” food into “healthy” food, for the sake of “the children.”
The country’s school lunch program finds itself under fire because new guidelines enacted in 2010 are creating added cost and an enormous amount of waste. But it was never intended to be this way, much like anything the federal government does.
The government’s involvement in the school lunch program started out much like the federal food stamp program. Beginning in the 1950s, the school lunch program was seen as a way to take surplus agricultural goods and distribute them to needy individuals.
Over the years, social engineers elected to office in Washington, D.C. determined that expanding program eligibility beyond just the needy was appropriate for the U.S. primary and secondary public education system. In expanding eligibility, bureaucrats enacted stricter requirements for balanced nutrition and dumped a bunch of money into it. By 1977, the school lunch program ballooned to an annual cost of $2 billion, or $7.5 billion in 2014 dollars.
At the time, the great costs were unsettling for the public and in 1980, Congress sought to “reform” the school lunch program by loosening the nutritional requirements.
To fit the nutritional requirements, the Reagan administration floated the idea of allowing condiments like pickle relish and ketchup to be classified as a vegetable. Even though it was just a proposal, it wasn’t portrayed that way.
Rather it became convenient political fodder for anti-Reagan media, which went something like this: “Ronald Reagan declares ketchup a vegetable so he can strip money out of school lunch programs for real vegetables and put that money into the military to provoke Soviet Union even more.”
Although Reagan wasn’t directly behind proposal, the media castigated him for it. Newsweek magazine, which at the time was fairly influential, was among the mockers, declaring on its cover “Ketchup — Now a Vegetable.”
The fallout from that was long-standing. For the next three decades, many considered the school lunch program to be an untouchable “third rail” for most politicians. If one dare speak out, they were immediately criticized for wanting children to go hungry. Whether or not there was actual hard data to back this claim up, proponents of the program have argued that, if not for the school lunch program, some children would not have access to a hot meal.
Fast-forward to 2014: The politics of school lunches have made a comeback. Now, however, the country is apparently facing an obesity epidemic.
At the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, First Lady Michelle Obama decided to make the obesity epidemic her hobby horse, a decision in keeping with the tradition of first ladies. Nancy Reagan took on drug abuse. Hillary Clinton pushed health care, which cost her party control of Congress in 1994.
Laura Bush’s was education. Michelle Obama’s effort has successfully influenced public policy, in the form of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
That law, pushed by the first lady set new standards for school food that included instituting sodium limits and creating targets for “more whole grains and fresh fruit.” According to critics, this one-size-fits-all approach is inadequate and leaving students hungry. Schools can’t afford to pay for food that complies these regulations. But perhaps most damning aspect is school kids just are not eating this expensive food.
Only in the current system of government in America could you have the dissonance of goals to fight hunger and obesity simultaneously influencing public policy.
Three-and-a-half years later, a group of Republicans are attempting to roll back some of the provisions in that law. Spearheading that endeavor is Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, who represents North Alabama’s rural fourth congressional district. Aderholt is a key figure because he is the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.
Unfortunately, Aderholt finds himself directly at odds with Michelle Obama. Last week, Mrs. Obama called Aderholt and his colleagues’ efforts “unacceptable.” But Aderholt insists he isn’t looking to completely scrap the law.
“All our legislation basically does is it says these school districts across the country that are having problems meeting the standards — they can get a one-year waiver,” Aderholt said in an interview with conservative talker Laura Ingraham last week. “We’re not trying to throw away the entire program. We’re just saying that school districts, wherever it is, whether it be an urban area, whether it be a rural area – wherever it is, if you’re having problems meeting these standards because of the lack of participation and the lack of involvement with the students, you can get a waiver.”
To bolster his argument, Aderholt questioned whether or not there might be a double standard at play with the first lady and bureaucracy behind school lunch regulation.
“I’m sure Mrs. Obama means well, as you say,” Aderholt said. “But I can tell you that I’m sure that her children don’t eat what these standards are and I’m sure the folks at the USDA don’t have these standards when they eat lunch. But yet, they want to impose this on the school kids across the country.”
Aderholt will likely fail, at least until Barack Obama is out of office. Nothing looks to be getting through the U.S. Senate and even if it did, it would be dead on arrival to the White House. The battle is probably lost for the time being, but the law of unintended consequences may ultimately serve conservatives and Republican in the overall contest.
For those who think the role of the federal government should be limited to declaring war and delivering mail, take notice that all across the country, public school children are getting first-hand taste (literally) of big government liberalism and social engineering.
They have been guinea pigs in Michelle Obama’s failed nutritional experiment, which has resulted in many having inedible food forced upon them. They may realize relying on government, as this is the case for many children, to fulfill basic food needs comes at a cost. That cost is the feds get to dictate what they eat because they’re providing it.
The self-reliant individual will find a way to provide their own food and that supposedly may encourage more of that behavior.
Will that lesson be lasting or even recognized? For a lot of children, probably not but it’s a start.