There's a reason I don't read the newspaper regularly. It makes me apoplectic.
The latest debacle? "Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity." (Democrat & Chronicle, last week)
As much as I appreciate that she recognizes there's a problem and is trying to use her authority and visability, I still feel inclined on a regular basis to send her the bumper sticker that says "If it gets any worse, I'm going to have to ask you to stop helping."
A bill just approved by the House would spent $4.5 billion to:
1. "Give the government power to decide what kinds of food may be sold in vending machine and lunch lines"
2. Limit bake sale fundraisers
3. Prompt the USDA to rewrite nutrition standards and dictate which foods schools can make available
4. Create after school meal programs to serve dinner to students who qualify for the free lunch program
5. Increase by 6 cents the amount of money schools are reimbursed for each free meal they serve
Why is this a problem?
Research into the National School Lunch Program, childhood obesity and pioneering programs successfully addressing the related issues leads conclusively to exactly the opposite of what's being proposed!
The most effective programs, both in cost efficiency and result production are locally initiated and orchestrated. They thrive without government involvement, and are tailored to the specific needs and resources of their communities in ways that cannot be replicated cookie-cutter fashion by a national initiative. Giving government more power is not the answer.
It is a direct and flagrant conflict of interest for the USDA/ Agriculture Department to rewrite the nutrition standards - just as it was when they wrote them the first time around! The primary purpose of the USDA is to promote agricultural production and success in the US. Child health and nutrition are inevitably sacrificed when all rules and requirements are written through that lens. School meal programs become dumping grounds for the excess production of American factory farms, just as they have been in the past. When the large scale manipulation of government agencies by giant agricultural and pharmaceutical companies is taken into consideration, this idea becomes even more appalling.
It is a documented fact that students/children who eat dinner with their families at least three nights a week are vastly less likely to be involved with drugs, alcohol, gangs and other troublesome behaviors. While it's certainly important to make sure that students have access to food, no initiative that purposely or strategically undermines family meals together should be undertaken at such a level.
Finally, as someone who has worked in industrial food service and battled the practical issues that arise from trying to feed large numbers of people on $1 per day or less, I have to say that increasing reimbursement by 6 cents a meal is not only unhelpful, but demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the system and its inherent flaws.
It is tremendously discouraging to see Mrs. Obama, who I'm sure genuinely means well, put her name and resources behind a bill so antithetical to her stated goals.
I'd say we should all write our Congressmen and Senators, but it appears that they neither listen to voters nor understand most of what they vote on.
Instead, if you have children and do not home school them, I offer the best advice I know of: buy a lunch box. Stuff it every day with the best food you can. Because well intentioned or not, the National School Lunch Program will destroy their health and lay the foundation for a lifetime of serious health issues.