“Eat foods made from ingredients that you can picture in their raw state or growing in nature.” — Michael Pollan, “Food Rules.”
It seems that House Republicans, who have repeatedly delayed votes on the controversial waiver of school lunch rules, may now realize that they can’t win the fight. The waiver would delay the requirements that the schools serve more fresh produce, more whole grains and less sugar, trans fats and salt. Far be it for those who have been trying to end the crusade should favor the improvements. Far be it for them to figure out ways to make such foods more palatable for children and to give it more time.
As Michelle Obama argued: “It is our job as adults to make sure that our kids eat what they need, not what they want. ... If I let my kids dictate what we have for dinner every day, it would be french fries, chips and candy. But we don’t run our households like that, and we can’t run our schools like that.”
Of course, the problem stems from the contribution that the food industry has had in relation to children’s health problems. It goes back to the refinement of wheat flour and on up to today’s plethora of fabricated and junk foods. It’s not only what has been removed from foods, but what has been added — like artificial colors, HFCS and BPA. You wonder how many of the ailments of children — from ADHD to diabetes to cancer — are the result of the industry adulteration of foods. As Mr. Pollan also wrote: “What an extraordinary achievement for civilization to have developed the one diet that reliably makes people sick.”
In spite of Pollan’s book, many people feel that the nutrition issue has become so complicated that it makes them throw their hands up in dismay — which, no doubt, the industry is counting on. And with most parents so busy, even if they want to do the best nutritionally for their children, the tide has rapidly risen against them. If children can be better fed at lunchtime at school, wouldn’t that be a big step in the right direction?
We know that the obesity rate of children (and adults) in the United States is alarming for many reasons. For one, there have been no health and nutrition classes in most schools for years. Too many parents are ignorant about good nutrition and think eating healthfully is too complicated and expensive. Two: Overscheduled or indifferent parents too often rely on ready prepared foods, whether from fast-food outlets, those that can be nuked in the microwave or are pre-packaged. No one is monitoring the family’s eating habits. And three: Mom and Dad are hooked on fast-food burgers, pizza, hot dogs, highly sweetened drinks, chips and many other unhealthy industry-promoted products and, sadly, but true, are not willing to give them up. No concern about their own or their children’s future health. Seems this should be considered a form of child abuse.
The food industry isn’t worried. As Marion Nestle wrote in “Food Politics”: “Food companies are not health or social service agencies, and nutrition becomes a factor in corporate thinking only when it can help sell food. The ethical choices involved in such thinking are considered all too rarely.”
When legislation comes up to label products containing genetically modified ingredients or to indicate the amount of added sugar, or the chemical ingredients, those corporations keep busy counteracting these plans. And they know that their ploys to make products more appealing and to encourage more people to consume them, will win out with the great majority of consumers.
Of course, responsible, caring, determined parents can vow to never have soft drinks in the house, to stay away from fast-food places, to use canned foods as little as possible and prepare food at home from the best ingredients they can find to give their children a good start in life. And when the kids get older and are often out buying their own food, well, they did the best they could.
So lunch at school may be the best chance for some kids to eat healthfully. But the effort by Michelle Obama and the school districts that have gotten with the program is dismissed and opposed by people who should know better. As a recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury reminded us: “The agenda of conservatives who are backed by food-industry behemoths such as Pepsi, General Mills and Domino’s Pizza is fighting the Obamas even on good causes and doing corporate America’s bidding.” It will be interesting to see what the House Republicans’ next move will be.
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 750 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.