Letter: No lunch left behind?

Rappahannock County Public Schools have been ordered by the food bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., to change what they are serving in the school cafeteria.

Like all U.S. public schools under the thumb of the “we know better” federal education overseers, our local schools next year will have to adopt the Michelle Obama nanny-state diet or lose federal dollars that support school lunch programs.

The new school lunch rules unveiled with televised fanfare by the First Lady on Jan. 25 will be mandatory for any public school participating in the government-subsidized lunch and breakfast programs. This is a perfect example of how federal aid becomes a federal club of compliance with a one-rule-fits-all regulation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has helpfully reduced the details down to an 80-page entry in the Jan. 26 Federal Register. Our county school board and staff now have the pleasure of countless hours of time figuring out how to comply, how much it will cost and how to keep out of trouble with the federal food police.

Among other things, the new Obama Administration diet orders these mandatory steps:

o Count calories. For the first time, USDA is setting calorie limits on school cafeteria meals. Lunches for kindergarten though fifth grade must contain no more than 650 calories; the limit is 700 calories for grades six through eight and 850 calories for grades nine to 12.

o No more whole milk may be served; non-fat (skim) milk must be offered. Flavored milk is allowed only if it is non-fat.

o Schools will be required to offer students between three-quarters and one cup of fruit a day, about double what they have been required to offer before. But students will be required to put only half that amount on their trays. (No, I am not making this up.) The bureaucrats decided to allow this flexibility so that students would not have take the full allotment, for fear they would  simply dump most or all of it in the trash. (Question: Will there be a school employee assigned to monitor what kids are dumping in the trash? If not, how is this enforced?)

o Over the next two years, schools must substitute whole-grain products in at least half the grain products served and by the 2014-15 school year, all grain products must be whole grain (goodbye, white bread!).

There’s more, but that’s for the cafeteria managers to figure out. We taxpayers can focus on the extra $3.2 billion cost the program will impose on U.S. public schools over the next five years, if government cost estimates are right.

Maybe our school board ought to answer these questions: What will this nanny-state meddling cost to Rappahannock schools? How much federal lunch money does Rappahannock receive, and would it be worth it to turn away that subsidy and maintain the freedom to decide what’s best to serve our kids in the cafeteria? Or is there no escape from Washington’s ruling elite?

I’m all for giving our kids healthy meals, but can’t we figure out how to do that locally without counting calories for Michelle Obama? Is there no place left for the hot dog? Have we really arrived at No Lunch Left Behind?

James P. Gannon,
Flint Hill

About James P. Gannon 21 Articles
James P. Gannon is a retired journalist who lives near Flint Hill. In his newspaper career, he served as a reporter and bureau chief at The Wall Street Journal, as Editor of The Des Moines Register in Iowa, and as Washington Bureau Chief for the Detroit news and a columnist for the Gannett newspapers.