How Hungry Kids Will Fare Under Trump | Civil Eats

How Hungry Kids Will Fare Under Trump

President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress will likely walk back most of the progress made on school food and nutrition programs in recent years.

school lunch

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s surprise victory on Tuesday, all the things I’d planned to write about this week—a review of a new cookbook, an informative article I recently read—suddenly seem exceedingly trivial. Instead I can only think about the many troubling ramifications of this election, including what it may mean for the millions of children who rely on federal programs like school meals for critical nutrition.

At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, we’ll have a Republican-controlled Congress taking up the long-overdue Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) next year. House Republicans have already shown a willingness—indeed, an almost vengeful eagerness—­to roll back the improved school nutrition standards championed by the First Lady.

They want to get rid of the “Smart Snacks” rules that cleaned up on-campus junk food fundraising, slash the number of schools able to use the Community Eligibility Provision to serve free meals without paperwork, and allow schools to sell “a la carte” items like pizza and fries on a daily basis. They’ve also proposed a three-state block grant pilot for school meals, an idea which could cripple school meal programs in the event of an economic downturn, and which is seen by some as a precursor to dismantling the entire National School Lunch Program.

Of course, school meals are not the only federal program on which hungry kids rely. Forty-four percent of supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) recipients are children, but the current Republican party platform advocates divorcing the program from the farm bill, thereby making it far more vulnerable to significant budget cuts. Indeed, House Speaker Paul Ryan has already indicated he hopes to drain $1 trillion from the program over the next ten years.

Then there’s President-elect Trump himself. While the fast-food loving candidate didn’t talk much about food policy on the campaign trail, what little he did say was rather alarming, including a plan to eliminate many food safety regulations, along with the nonexistent “FDA Food Police.”

As for school food in particular, Trump didn’t join his primary opponents Ted Cruz and Chris Christie in mocking Michelle Obama’s school food reform efforts on the campaign trail. (See: “If Heidi’s First Lady, French Fries Will Return to the Cafeteria” and “Christie on School Food: “I Don’t Care” What Kids Eat.”)

Instead, the only time Trump spoke about school food (to my knowledge) was when he appeared on the Dr. Oz show in September. According to The Atlantica teacher in the audience asked about childhood obesity and Trump responded: “That is a school thing to a certain extent. I guess you could say it’s a hereditary thing, too. I would imagine it certainly is a hereditary thing. But a lot of schools aren’t providing proper food because they have budget problems, and they’re buying cheaper food and not as good of food.”

If you squint a little, that rambling response could actually be construed as supporting healthy school meals served by well-funded districts, but I’m not holding my breath.

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After all, Trump is the same person who tapped Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, as one of his advisors on food policy. Miller caused an uproar just last week by calling Hillary Clinton the “c-word,” but well before that incident (and before a whole lot of other outrageous and despicable behavior in my state), Miller’s first act in office was bringing back soda, deep fat fryers and birthday cupcakes to Texas schools.

Now, Politico‘s Morning Ag newsletter reports that Miller is actually on the short list as a possible (if unlikely) pick for Agriculture Secretary, the official who, among other duties, oversees all federal child nutrition programs. That Miller is even being considered for such a position tells us all we need to know about the relative importance of these issues to Trump and his advisors.

I unwittingly launched The Lunch Tray right in the middle of the last CNR, in the summer of 2010. Back then, it was thrilling to have a devoted champion like Michelle Obama in the White House, willingly spending her political capital to push for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. For advocates like me and for concerned parents around the country, it’s going to be excruciating to watch the likely dismantling of many of those reforms in the days ahead.

For hungry children, the impact could be devastating.


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This post originally appeared on The Lunch Tray.

Bettina Elias Siegel is a nationally recognized writer and commentator on issues relating to children and food. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Houston Chronicle, and other publications. She's the author of Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World and for 12 years covered the world of kid food and school nutrition in The Lunch Tray. Read more >

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  1. Lenore Abboud
    Progress in school lunches!? You have got to be kidding. Take politics out of it. I wish everyone would quit pushing parties. Let me just say one thing about school lunches because I have eaten them and they are pretty much unedible. I see young kids sit there and stare at that garbage and go back to class hungry. This being in school districts that you can't say are underfunded. These are high ranking schools. My heart breaks for these kids because they have a long day ahead on an empty stomach. My girls bring their lunch to school so that their parents know they are eating and eating healthy. I on the other hand, when I visit them, buy what is served at the school and I am appalled. We need to eat what we preach.
  2. Amy Prince
    Thank you. I imagine there are countless issues that are going to go by unnoticed in the coming months. I care deeply about so many of those issues, and this one needs to stay afloat. Please continue to help us all keep tabs on this.
  3. Jason
    I am a conservatarian who cares deeply about the food system. I fight CAFOs locally in Missouri. I love the local food revolution. Yes, The First Lady had a noble cause in child health issues and obesity prevention. However, policy beyond school lunches matters. I went to see Michael Pollan speak about In Defense of Food. His tough talk on President Obama’s Ag policy and cabinet mainly revolved around Michele Obama’a glorious and groundbreaking organic garden. What a signal to the U.S. and the big Ag special interests. Please. The president had recently orchestrated a Monsanto and Ag cabinet revolving door. Not to mention the Ag lobby’s dream, Tom Vilsack, heading up the department. Forgive me for finding your concerns hypocritically obnoxious. I saw little protest during all of this. It was simply reasoned away with blind political loyalty. As usual. I understand your concern. You likely are fearful of a mercurial Trump. Me too. I didn’t vote for Trump. And I certainly didn’t vote for Hillary as Vilsack and his ilk were on all of her shortlists. Hey, she would have kept the garden though, huh! This is just as much about your ingrained political reflexes as it is about policy. History proves that. How about we show a little cautious optimism. If Trump truly is the populist he claims to be, then we may see the socioeconomic status of some the poorest SNAP dependent parts of the United States pulled out of poverty. Fighting climate change, despite differing opinions of the matter, is noble. I think the fight is an honest goal by people who care. But how do you expect the poorest parts of the county to eat healthy or even enter that mindset when a political movement is decimating a huge chunk of the county? We subsidize unhealthy food and obesity. Both parties do. The free lunch program, SNAP benefits, and an organic garden at the White House are going to do little to nothing when the only culture entire communities have is unemployment and dispare. No, Trump isn’t going to hire Jaime Oliver to travel around Appalachia confiscating Mountain Dew from schools. He may bring back their jobs at the expense of more CO2. I salute Mr Oliver by the way. He is a hero. He actually went into that area and changed it with his heart and mind.

    I could go on, but somehow I doubt it would help. It seems we are too indoctrinated to ever fix these problems.

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