There’s a hashtag filled with colorful commentary and color pictures of the devastation Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch initiative has wrought on the plastic platters of America’s school children.
There’s a GAO report showing participation in the school lunch program down more than 1 million students— the first such decline in years— while costs are up and the actual nutritional value of these allegedly improved meals remains in question. But none of this requires reevaluation.
The real problem with Michelle Obama’s crusade and a top-down, inflexible federal mandate for students of varying sizes and tastes is that Republicans are pointing out that it’s not as great as the First Lady claims:
If Michelle Obama had it her way, House Republicans would currently be in detention.
In one of the most overtly political speeches during her tenure as First Lady, Obama slammed Republicans on Tuesday for trying to weaken school nutritional standards, one of her key policy achievements.
“This is unacceptable,” Obama said at a White House meeting with school leaders and experts. “It’s unacceptable to me not just as First Lady but also as a mother.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher on this issue,” she said, pointing to obesity statistics in both children and adults. “The last thing we can afford to so right now is play politics with our kids health.”
I, unlike many others, don’t have a huge problem with the First Lady pushing for healthier eating. It’s a fine message, we do have a childhood obesity problem, and I’d rather meddlesome liberals be in the business of encouraging such things socially than mandating them. But this school lunch overhaul seems to be a perfect example of how a basically unobjectionable encouragement to eat healthier can become a disaster when the government attempts to implement it in a one-size-fits-all program.
By what measure is this program a “policy achievement?” Did the First Lady envision fewer students on the school lunch she wanted retooled to micromanage their health? Surely not. Did she want large numbers of students boycotting school lunch? Although it’s a decent lesson in activism, that probably wasn’t the goal. Did she want districts taking money from teaching budgets to pay higher prices for lunches that were being thrown away? I’m guessing no. Are bland, carb-filled substitutes for fatty offerings making anyone healthier? But admitting that tweaks in the program could allow districts more flexibility and possibly more success, even success as Michelle Obama defines it, would mean a minor political concession to Republicans. Better to pretend your “policy achievement” is going swimmingly and attack anyone who might want to change anything about the program the GAO found “challenging” and in need of “clarification.”
The Heritage Foundation explains the move Republicans are trying to make, which regrettably doesn’t change the underlying nutrition requirements (even the forthcoming anti-science War on Salt):
There’s a provision in the House agriculture appropriations bill that would grant waivers to school food authorities who are suffering financial losses due to operating food service programs. The waivers would give those SFAs an exemption from complying with the requirements for the 2014-15 school year. This might help some schools temporarily, including those who have reportedly taken money out of their teaching budgets to cover the additional program costs.
The Obamas’ personal chef has something to say about it, too:
Sam Kass, who is the administration’s Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, framed this minor reprieve for some schools as an absolute catastrophe. According to Obama Foodorama, a blog covering White House food policy, “’What the House Republicans have proposed will be absolutely devastating,’ Kass said, and painted a grim picture of the junk food free-for-all that could go on, saying schools will be filled with ‘chips and candy bars, and all kinds of unhealthy foods.’”
You’ll eat your flaccid, watery broccoli and cold chicken cutlets and you’ll like it, hoi polloi!
Update: Perhaps they’re stealing from the civics budget for these lunches.