But what is happening in school cafeterias these day is not the promotion of healthy kids. It is the subversion of parenting and a bizarre subsidy of the dairy industry. [Note: my grandfather came to this country to own a dairy farm, which is still in my family to this day...so let's not start on the American Farmer diatribe...I'm way ahead of you on that count.]
A few days ago, a four-year-old’s lunch was deemed unacceptable because it did not meet USDA guidelines. She was sent through the cafeteria line where she received chicken nuggets and milk. What was in her lunch? A turkey sandwich with a slice of cheese on it, potato chips, a banana and an apple juice. Aside from the absurdity of the whole thing, it now appears that the inspector’s objection was the lack of milk in the child’s lunch.
North Carolinians aren’t the only parents with a problem. A friend in Georgia has told me that her school mandates milk with lunch as well. But only one percent. Not skim, not two. They even send a form home with children that the parents must sign indicating that they will send their child to school with one percent milk everyday. My friend, hilariously, has not signed despite being sent six copies of this form.
Where to start? The USDA guidelines are based on a system concocted in 1902 when we believed that bread was great for you and didn’t have a lot of access to fresh vegetables and fruits in the winter time. These guidelines have been updated but are still based on the same principles. Today, these guidelines are a plate that has been split into pie pieces–about 25 percent grains, 25 percent protein, 30 percent vegetables, and 20 percent fruit. Then, oddly, there is also a cup next to the plate that just says dairy.
This means that in states that follow USDA guidelines, of which two thirds do without any changes, your child is encouraged to eat a lot of carbs. Yet, “a growing number of top nutritional scientists blame excessive carbohydrates — not fat — for America’s ills.” In fact, Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health has said that “The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.”
This makes sense. Humans wouldn’t have been exposed to many carbs until the advent of true agriculture only a few thousand years ago. Or a few seconds ago in evolutionary time scales. And, yet, they make sandwiches and pizza possible. So here we are.
The same is more or less true for milk. Most humans can’t digest it past infancy and so it holds no nutritional value. In the United States, the percentage is lower–about 50 million. But that number includes 75 percent of African Americans and 90 percent of Asian Americans. So, really, all these USDA requirements are doing for those kids is causing them to have stomach aches in the afternoon.
My point, of course, isn’t that we should ban carbs and milk from schools. Only that the government should have a less intrusive role given their complete inability to keep politics out of our children’s lunches and the hefty price tag these regulations force on budget-strapped school districts.
Politics, you ask? Well, of course. After the new school lunch guidelines went to Congress, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) “wrote a letter … extolling the nutritional value of tomato paste, [a]nd Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) from big potato-producing states joined with the National Potato Council to fight the limits on starchy vegetables.” What happened? “In addition to preserving the tomato paste loophole, the bill Obama signed prevents the USDA from limiting servings of starchy vegetables.”
I rest my case. In the meantime, I hope your child likes milk and state inspectors rifling through her lunch bag.