Let them eat pizza

PizzaOur children may have been eating more fruit and vegetables, grown healthier and thinned down some in school the last several years because of the School Lunch Program.

If they did, it is likely because a bi-partisan Congress and the USDA put in place back in 2012 some more rigorous standards to encourage nutrition and to fight childhood obesity.

These regulations required more whole grains, a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, and less sodium and meat in the school lunch regimen.

The National School Lunch program is a federally assisted meals program that operates in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions.  The meals are nutritionally balanced, low cost or free.  This is not a recent idea.  Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946.

It was hoped that feeding children would fight poverty and reduce disease.  For, without good food, our children get diet-related diseases, and they don’t learn so well.

There is serious concern in the schools and among parents of children attending school in Loudoun County and across the nation that the current more rigorous school diet is not going to remain so healthy under the current Administration.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) lightened and diluted the school regulations as they apply to nutritional standards this past Monday.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue, the former Governor of Georgia, announced an interim rule to provide “regulatory flexibility” for the National School Lunch Program.

This nationwide announcement was unveiled at the Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Virginia.

The Honorable Kristen Umstattd, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, wrote the Superintendent of Schools for Loudoun County, stating: “As the mother of a former Catoctin student, I sincerely wish Catoctin had not been selected by USDA for Monday’s announcement of reduced federal standards for school meals.   It would reassure some of us tremendously if LCPS were to refute the negative impact of this announcement by publicly committing to maintaining the previous higher standards that USDA is now undermining.”

Kathleen Reilly Acker said, “Both my children attended Catoctin – what IS wrong with the School Board to allow this travesty?”

Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, also appeared at the local elementary school.  Rep. Roberts had tried to reduce the strictures of the program previously, in 2015, but couldn’t convince Congress to do so.

Anthony Fasolo asked, “Are we headed back to the days when they served pizza and fries together?”

Glen Bayless said, “I wish more, indeed I wish all, of our local officials would speak out. This policy is an outrage.”

Mr. Donald Trump famously enjoys fast food – and it shows.

It’s not clear, however, how far the diluted regulations will permit fast food to supplant the healthier regulations in place.

There have been past attempts by Republican conservatives to reduce program costs, the regulations and even to let schools ignore the regulations completely.

Counties in the area have received millions in federal aid for the school lunch program, and additional sums for the school breakfast programs.

The House Freedom Caucus is on record demanding that healthy school food standards and the updated Nutrition Facts label be repealed; not too long, they insisted that it happen in the first 100 days of the Trump administration.  Monday was just past their goal.

The Freedom Caucus reportedly called the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) school food regulations, “burdensome and unworkable,” and claimed that the “kids aren’t eating the foods, industry can’t comply with the standards and schools are wasting money.”

Pew has a study in three states, Connecticut, Texas, and Washington, that shows the opposite -that the children’s eating habits are improving, they are choosing to eat more nutritional lunches, lower in calories, and eating more fruits and vegetables.

Harvard conducted a study that showed there was no increase of waste on the food plates.

So it may be up to the schools locally to stand by the old standards, just as Supervisor Umstattd insists, unless we prefer that our children eat pizza instead.