But she hasn’t yet succeeded.
The recent annual conference of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which, along with various labor unions, represents our country’s 55,000 school food workers, was sponsored by Domino’s Pizza, PepsiCo, Tyson, General Mills, and AdvancePierre Foods, a pre-packaged sandwich provider, the largest in the nation. The exhibition hall was filled with over 500 vendors—which included Sara Lee, Kraft, Perdue, Uno, and Pizza Hut. Corporate mascots Chester the Cheetah (for Cheetos) and the Pillsbury Doughboy wandered the floor looking for photo opportunities.
Want samples? How about tater tots, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on white bread with crusts removed, toaster waffles with built-in syrup, and chicken tenders, chicken bites, chicken rings, chicken patties, and chicken nuggets. In other words, food that is easily dispensed, popular with kids, and processed to death.
This will come as no surprise to readers who have been following our coverage of all the crony capitalism imbedded in the school lunch program. This is why pizza as a vegetable, old meat, and mercury-laden fish can be served to our youngest and most vulnerable.
But private interests pressuring government to make literally rotten choices is not the whole story. The other problem is that government officials, unfortunately even including Mrs. Obama, do not adequately understand nutrition.
In a recent interview, Mrs. Obama said, “Before coming to the White House, I struggled, as a working parent with a traveling, busy husband, to figure out how to feed my kids healthy, and I didn’t get it right. I thought to myself, if a Princeton and Harvard-educated professional woman doesn’t know how to adequately feed her kids, then what are other parents going through who don’t have access to the information I have?”
We ourselves don’t see what being a Princeton or Harvard graduate has to do with understanding nutrition. Even the Harvard Medical School doesn’t know or teach much about nutrition. Moreover, you have to keep up. Only a few years ago, butter was condemned by the experts for its saturated fat. Now it is rightly recognized that saturated fat is not the villain in heart disease. Butter, which is rich in the vital vitamin K2, is potentially a health food.
Mrs. Obama has in particular tried to deal with burgeoning childhood obesity, but unfortunately with a badly flawed program including the following elements, none of which accord with the most up-to-date science:
- Protein Restriction: The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act tried to limit protein intake in the school lunch program to between ten and twelve ounces per week. This would have given a high school jock the same absurdly small amount of protein as a second-grader! Thankfully, due to major pushbacks from parents, these limits were lifted earlier this year.
- Calorie Restriction: The same ignorance of nutrition also came up with the notion that all kids should be subject to a strict limit of 850 calories. How ridiculous to set a one-size-fits-all limit on calories for kids of all ages and activity levels! Besides, many studies have shown that calorie reduction alone will not produce reliable and sustainable weight loss. You have to avoid carbs and sugar and eat the right things.
- Lots of Carbohydrates: Guidelines call for 60% of calories from carbohydrates, without acknowledging the fact that a high-carb diet is what causes the obesity in the first place. Extra carbs are just converted into fat. One government recommendation (which comes directly from the sugar and processed food industries) is for kids to eat more cereal to get enough carbs, even though a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) showed that many breakfast cereals contain more than 50% sugar by weight, with cereals marketed specifically to children among the worst offenders. Too much sugar in the blood has been shown to lead to cancer as well as diabetes.
- Low Saturated Fat: Dr. Joseph A. Mercola notes that trans fats, not saturated fats, are to blame for heart disease—as are refined sugar and carbohydrates. In fact, kids need a good percentage of healthy fats to help their brains function properly: butter, olive oil, avocadoes, coconut oil, etc. Surprisingly, healthy fats are also needed to burn fat and thus keep a healthy weight.
What Mrs. Obama’s program does not address, besides sugar, is the high fructose corn syrup in sodas, one of the most damaging ingredients in young people’s diets. An overload of this mass-produced fructose not only produces fat—it also turns on a “fat switch” which tells your body to eat more and to store more fat.
Nor do diet sodas containing aspartame offer a good alternative. Aspartame is chemically linked to formaldehyde and can turn into it in sufficiently hot weather. It is a basically a poison which, if the FDA were doing its job, would not be allowed in commercial products.
Ironically, when Mrs. Obama’s representative—celebrity chef Sam Kass, her “food policy czar”—asked to speak at the SNA’s convention, he was turned down. “The rebuke shows how ugly the [school lunch] fight has become,” according to Politico.com.
Given the mess we have made of school lunches, the better choice is to pack a healthy lunch for one’s kids. But some school systems make it difficult for parents to opt out of the federal school lunch program or to choose a healthier alternative.
In Richmond, Virginia, the school system sent home notes to parents telling them that kids could bring their lunches from home only if they had a specific medical condition with a physician’s note as proof!
Something similar occurs in many Chicago public schools: principals, under pressure from unions, may ban kids from bringing lunches from home unless they have a medical excuse. They make the ridiculous claim that their lunches will be nutritionally superior to anything a parent can pack, and that it’s important they maintain control over these meals.
What really going on here is that school lunch employees are members of the powerful Service Employees International Union. The union wants more of these employees, not fewer, and also insists on benefits and wages that in many cases are bankrupting the schools.
Even when parents are allowed to pack nutritious lunches themselves, they can still run afoul of government mandates. The most recent story of this kind came from Canada. A mother in Manitoba was fined $10 (once for each of her kids) by her children’s daycare program for failing to provide “nutritionally balanced” lunches—that is, strictly conforming to the Canadian Food Guidelines. Mom had packed a lunch of leftover roast beef, carrots, potatoes, an orange, and milk, but she didn’t include the government-mandated serving of grain, so the daycare center supplemented the lunch with—a Ritz cracker!
This would be funny if it didn’t involve the health of innocent and vulnerable children.