Our Children On The Front Line In The War Against Vegetables | Civil Eats

Our Children On The Front Line In The War Against Vegetables

If we’re such a “family values”-friendly nation, why are we so willing to let our kids be abused for the sake of making money?

According to the allegations in the Penn State scandal, a pedophile was allowed to brutally assault/molest numerous young boys because no one dared to upset the very lucrative apple cart that is college sports.

And now comes word that Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have torpedoed the USDA’s attempts to reduce the amount of pizza, french fries, and salt that our kids consume at school. Why? Because the frozen pizza companies, the salt industry, and potato growers asked them to. Really. It’s that simple.

The USDA wasn’t looking to ban any of these foods, but rather to increase the ratio of non-starchy vegetables and whole grains. This would be a step in the right direction, instead of using our resources to make our kids sicker and fatter. But such a shift would also make a dent in some very lucrative government contracts. So, no go.

There’s more going on here than simple greed, though. Because the politicians who do the food industry’s bidding are showing as much contempt for the expert opinion of nutritionists as they do towards the science of climate change. As Tom Philpott notes over at Mother Jones, the evidence that we need to feed our kids less of this stuff is solid: “Eat Your Greens, or Your Gut Gets It.”

But who needs experts, anyway? Not the GOP. Their ideal nominee should evidently be a blowhard ignoramus with a moral compass that’s shiftier than the San Andreas fault line, and at least as deeply cracked.

Take Herman Cain. When the pizza mogul/motivational speaker/alleged serial groper was asked if he could define a man by the kind of pizza he prefers, he declared that “A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.”

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And so goes the ongoing conservative war against vegetables, served up with a side of machismo. We can’t let the First Lady instill a love of broccoli in our kids! And isn’t Obamacare just a sneaky plot to open the door for legislation that would crucify Americans who reject cruciferous vegetables?

I guess those retired war generals over at Mission Readiness didn’t get the memo about the sissifying powers of vegetables. Why are these military experts up in arms over the USDA’s caving in to Big Food? Maybe because “Obesity is the leading medical disqualifier for military service, and children get up to 40 percent of their daily calories during the school day?”

As Amy Dawson Taggart, Mission Readiness’s director, noted “This new effort to undermine school nutrition regulations raises national security concerns.”

It should also raise questions about what kind of culture turns a blind eye to kids being brutalized and turns our children into vessels for commodity crop crap because it protects the revenues of some high powered institutions and politicians. What warped brand of capitalism have we created that permits our kids to be treated as collateral damage?

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A version of this story originally published on Huffington Post

Kerry Trueman is a climate change activist/writer/consultant who advocates low-impact living, healthy eating, sustainable agriculture and related topics in a lively, non-wonky way. She has been a Huffington Post blogger since 2007, and occasional contributor to AlterNet, Grist, Civil Eats, and MomsCleanAirForce. Trueman also wrote the chapter on how to eat ecologically for Rodale's Whole Green Catalog. Read more >

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  1. But the GOP really did not "torpedo" the proposed USDA regulations where vegetables or whole grains or salt are concerned. The proposed regs call for increased portions of green and orange vegetables, as well as whole grains. Those remain intact, even though Congress lifted a limit on potatoes. What the net effect of is remains to be seen. Will schools really continue to serve potatoes on a regular basis in addition to those increased portions of other vegetables? Can they afford to do that? It may be a hollow victory for potato growers.

    Likewise, the appropriations conferees did not nix the regulation of salt, or the requirements for more whole grains. They said the USDA must certify that it has reviewed the science on how salt affects health, and must define what it means by "whole grains." Here's the text:

    SEC. 743. None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to implement an interim final or final rule regarding nutrition programs under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (42 U.S.C. 1751 et seq.) and the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 (42 U.S.C. 1771 et seq.) that—
    (1) requires crediting of tomato paste and puree based on volume;
    (2) implements a sodium reduction target beyond Target I, the 2-year target, specified in Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, ‘‘Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs’’ (FNS–2007–0038, RIN 0584– AD59) until the Secretary certifies that the Department has reviewed and evaluated relevant scientific studies and data relevant to the relationship of sodium reductions to human health; and
    (3) establishes any whole grain requirement without defining ‘‘whole grain.’’

    Are those requirements really so onerous or insurmountable?

    Where Congress really set an ugly precedent is allowing the tomato sauce on pizza to be counted as a vegetable. But pizza doesn't have to be so unhealthy. Ann Cooper, the "renegade lunch lady" serves it twice weekly in her menu schemes, but her sauce is made with lots of other vegetables besides tomatoes and she doesn't count it as a vegetable for purposes of federal reimbursement. School districts and food service directors are not innocent bystanders here. They can have their own standards seperate and apart from ConAgra and Shwan Food.

    The crux of this episode that most of the media have missed is that these regulations have been in development since 2004, when Congress mandated that the USDA develop school meal guidelines that align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Those guidelines call for balance--not potatoes and pizza every day. Now Congress has contradicted its own mandate, insinuated itself in what may be an unprecedented manner into the rule-making process and left school meal standards--once again--out of step with the dietary guidelines the federal government says all of us should follow. It's a tragic irony, but maybe not as tragic as the mainstream press would have us believe.
  2. Matty R
    Ed, You say tomato i say tomahto-

    It really depends how you define "torpedo" in this context. Making no funds available to implement a rule is akin to killing the rule. As for requiring further definition of whole grains, again we have a delay for no reason and who knows what they will accept as a definition.

    As for making pizza healthy, of course that's theoretically possible but it's not going to happen without requirements we don't have and are not likely to get. Ann Cooper is great but completely irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of public schools in this country. In addition, I have spoken to some people who have observed schools a year after Ann Cooper's methods were implemented only to see it start to unravel. The schools end up offering crap along with the nice salad bar and the children gravitate away from the better food.

    As Jon Stewart so wisely observed, "It’s not democracy, it’s Digiorno"

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