A fight we can win: Stopping Michelle Obama's war on edible food

What’s on the GOP agenda for 2015? The Keystone Pipeline, tax reform, passing a budget… those are all so last year. How about school lunches?

As the opening bell sounds for the 114th Congress, don’t be surprised to see GOP lawmakers take on school nutrition. The $1.1 trillion omnibus this month included provisions to allow states more flexibility to exempt schools from the Department of Agriculture’s whole-grain standards if they can show hardship and to halt future sodium restrictions

But that was only the opening salvo in the long-running fight over new reforms championed by first lady Michelle Obama.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, has been leading the charge on school lunch, along with Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a key member of the Senate Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee. But their cause is about to be picked up by the House Education and Workforce Committee, chaired by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), and the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), as they begin work to reauthorize the law governing school nutrition programs.

Everyone would like to see kids eating nutritious meals, and there’s really no reason they can’t. But as with so many other things in the education arena, that responsibility falls on the parents. They have to educate their children as to what they should be looking for and why it’s important. I manage to eat some veggies every day and fruit as often as I can manage, but in order for that to work out you need good options that somebody would actually want to eat. Sadly, that’s frequently not the case in a school lunch.

There is an economic policy aspect to all of this as well. Nobody is going to benefit from food that winds up in the trash can, and all of that costs money out of already strained school budgets.

[The School Nutrition Association’s (SNA)] ask to drop a mandate that kids take a half cup serving of fruits or vegetables, in particular, is expected to be a big fight, as the move is strongly opposed by nutrition advocates, the White House and the produce industry, which is seeing big gains in produce sales into the program.

SNA argues that the requirement has led to skyrocketing waste and costs, contributing to financial woes for many school nutrition programs. Battle lines will also be drawn on new nutrition standards on all food sold in schools, including vending machines and a la carte lines — standards that in some cases have led to lost revenue for schools — and debate will continue on whole grain and sodium requirements.

When you start slashing all the salt out of food it becomes bland. Not everyone likes whole grain bread. And broccoli which has been overly steamed and left in a warming tray for twenty minutes isn’t going to have anyone clamoring for more. These plans may have been well intentioned, but like so many other examples of nanny state mandates to save us from ourselves, they don’t translate very well into reality. We’re not talking about enough money to balance the budget or a policy which prevents a war here, but this is still a battle that the GOP can win and send a message to those who would use the government’s fist to control every aspect of our lives.