|School lunch spending from the New York Times article|
"How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground" in the New York Times Magazine describes in detail the struggle to improve school lunch programs. It illustrates the dizzying and constant back-and-forth about the nutritional value of pizza and potatoes. It documents the machinations of the food industry. It highlights the startling political involvement of the "lunch ladies" and their lobbyists in opposition to the new rules. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was "an ambitious bill that would impose strict new nutrition standards on all food sold in public schools." Well-meaning, but fraught!
"As the government began turning the broad guidelines into specific rules — specific rules with specific consequences for specific players — life became more difficult. What began as a war on obesity turned into war among onetime allies. Republicans now attack the new rules as a nanny-state intrusion by the finger-wagging first lady. Food companies, arguing that the new standards are too severe, have spent millions of dollars lobbying to slow or change them. Some students have voted with their forks, refusing to eat meals they say taste terrible."Children who refuse vegetables for school lunch are a double whammy -- the lunches they eat don't count towards federal reimbursements AND the kids come away hungrier because their hamburger or pizza has been downsized since they are supposed to get some calories from their vegetables. We put all the kids on a diet to solve obesity -- what about the thin, active, hungry ones? And "schools of all sizes and income levels were struggling with higher costs, lower participation and what they call plate waste — kids throwing away perfectly good food." It's so complicated when one set of guidelines apply to all. The net result of all the politics is a complicated program full of bad incentives and bad faith, and any compromise is likely at best to remain that way.
This mess is all about money, as you would imagine. Varying interest groups earn big money from the enormous federal school lunch program -- that's no surprise. From the first efforts at the beginning of the Obama administration, they have lobbied and otherwise influenced Congress and affected the USDA in its rule-making. The loudest voices are the most financially engaged voices.
"Next September, when the entire Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will be up for reauthorization, the soccer moms of America may not get a vote. Just a few years ago, President Obama’s school-lunch reform seemed like a kind of armistice in Washington’s eternal culture of influence and partisanship. Today Obama’s lunch reform, much like Obama’s presidency, feels mired in an endless insurgency — against a stealthy, well-financed and infinitely patient foe."