Food Policy

The School Lunch Fight Misses the Mark

Should we expand the USDA's failing National School Lunch Program, as First Lady Michelle Obama wants, or should we slow down its implementation, as House GOP members prefer? No.


School lunch
George Eastman House/Foter

The ongoing fight over the USDA's controversial National School Lunch Program reached new depths this week, as Republicans in Congress and First Lady Michelle Obama argued openly over the direction the trouble program should take.

Mrs. Obama made herself the public face of a series of recent changes to the decades-old program. Those changes include requiring that students receive fruit and vegetables, and swapping out white flour for whole-wheat flour.

But the results of these changes have been nothing short of disastrous, something I've written about several times. They include higher food costs and a tragic increase in food waste (generated by kids who are seemingly choosing to go hungry rather than be forced to eat the new food options).

They've also meant that countless parents and more than 1 million students have voted with their mouths, leaving the school lunch program in unprecedented droves last school year.

According to USDA data, the number of students paying full price for school lunches now stands at 9.2 million, the lowest figure in recorded history. In short, kids whose families can afford for them to avoid school lunches do just that.

Whole school systems around the country have bailed out, too.

All of this means the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, as the changes were billed in Congress, might have been more accurately promoted instead as the Hungry School Kids Act.

The struggling school lunch program is on its heels. But, as I noted recently, Mrs. Obama has decided, in the face of withering criticism, that the program should be expanded.

The House thinks otherwise, and voted Thursday, in what the Washington Post called "a rebuke of sorts to the first lady," to slow down changes to the school lunch program.

The House plan would "let cash-strapped schools opt out of the nutrition regulations via waiver."

But Mrs. Obama is having none of this, blasting House Republicans. Her message? Opposing her politicization of food is political.

"The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health," she said.

She's right. The House GOP is playing politics. They're just not doing it as pervasively—or as deftly—as she and her colleagues are.

Last week, for example, the USDA put out a panicked press release defending the program. This week, it was USDA secretary Tom Vilsack and former secretary Ann Veneman penning a joint op-ed in The Hill that blasted school lunch politics.

Mrs. Obama herself took to the pages of the New York Times this week to defend the school lunch program, though she failed to address any of the legitimate concerns—ones raised by, among others, the editors of the Los Angeles Times—about food waste and the environment.

Like so many food fights in Washington, this latest series of political volleys is really just another battle over the proper role of big government. Conservatives and others who oppose the current school lunch program and who want to roll back the program to what it looked like several years ago are simply supporting a government program that failed years ago, while Mrs. Obama wants to expand the program that's failing right now.

Currently, under the program, the USDA reimburses schools $2.93 for every free lunch served, and lesser amounts for meals paid for wholly or in part. As a general rule, for every three dollars the federal government spends on school lunches, two dollars goes to overhead, while just a dollar goes to food.

The only certain (and continuing) losers in this battle are America's schoolchildren and its taxpayers.

It doesn't have to be that way, though. Alternatives exist. Communities can take charge. Or the federal government could just give cash to families in need. Giving $2 per student per meal would double what the government's spending on food while still save billions in overhead costs.

The USDA National School Lunch Program doesn't need to be expanded. It doesn't need to be slowed. It needs to be abolished.

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  1. Lady Obama knows free will goes right to your hips.

    1. Let’s Move (away from free will)!

          1. Dude, I’m a punk. Not a rocker.

    2. Obesity is the result of living in a deterministic universe. Time is a flat circle.

      1. There once was a man who said, “d___!
        I cannot but think that I am
        A creature that moves
        In predestinate grooves
        In fact, not a bus, but a tram.

        1. There was once a man who said,

          “I am whatever you say I am,
          If I wasn’t, then why would I say I am?
          In the papers, the news everyday I am,
          Radio won’t even play my jam.”

          1. Roll it!

            1. I have no idea what just happened.

  2. Currently, under the program, the USDA reimburses schools $2.93 for every free lunch served, and lesser amounts for meals paid for wholly or in part.

    It is me, or would it cost less than $2.93 a kid to offer a lunch buffet of sandwiches, a piece of fruit, and milk? Or, as I’ve said in the past, teach the kids to cook for themselves.

    1. But how would we pay for the 5 vice principals and 15 other administrators without the lunch money?

      1. With scrip that they can use in the school store.

      2. Pay them in sandwiches.

        1. Knuckle sandwiches.

  3. The USDA National School Lunch Program doesn’t need to be expanded. It doesn’t need to be slowed. It needs to be abolished


  4. Michelle bloviates:

    They want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.

    If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, sodium is not a problem. It’s more dangerous to have too little salt than too much.

    In a multivariate-adjusted model, those who consumed less than 3000 mg of sodium per day had a 25% increased risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular events compared with those who consumed between 4000 mg and 5990 mg/day

    And that’s for hypertensive adult subjects. Kids who should theoretically be getting plenty of exercise and sweating are going to need more salt. Instead they are getting low-salt whole wheat mush along with sugary skim milk drinks (kids need plenty of sat fats also) that they throw away and later proceed to fill up on junk.

    1. It’s more dangerous to have too little salt than too much.

      Hell, Star Trek taught us this nearly 50 years ago

      1. If only it had occurred to her to just get a glass of saltwater from the food replicator, many lives could have been saved.

        1. Here’s an idea – why can’t the food replicator simply generate pre-chewed food and teleport it into your stomach?

          1. The stomach expands and contracts, so you would need some kind of force to expand the stomach as it was filled so the food didn’t teleport into the exact space occupied by the organ itself.

            However teleporting shit out of your colon would be a huge time saver.

            1. We already know Star Trek is unrealistic – I mean, if they had teleportation technology, they would constantly beam the female crew members’ clothes into space.

              1. “Cap’n, this has grown intolerable. We must court-martial Assistant Engineer Benny Hill.”

                1. Speed up the fight scenes and play Yakety-Sax?

                  1. Oh shit! What’s the non-porn version of Rule 34?


            2. It’s very hard to do that without accidentally taking a bit of colon in the process. However, when you are transported down to a planet, all the feces and urine are removed with a transporter filter, which is why you never see an away team stop to take a whizz or dump.

              1. I bet the red-shirts take an involuntary dump when they realize the monster is about to eat them.

            3. But nowhere near as much fun!

            4. A tiny black hole inside your rectum, or in your tampon, to consume up un-wanted waste matter, is a FAR better solution! Less muss, less fuss!

      2. Hah! Scott McCloud had that plot ~15 yrs. before that.

      3. That was the only ST episode that ever scared me, as a kid.

    2. Whole grains aren’t that great either. Sure, wheat bread is healthier than white bread, but only marginally so.

      1. Of course, they’d be much better off with some good old-fashioned cafeteria shepherd’s pie.

    3. OK, just checked with the hypertension expert. Your read on the paper is incorrect. First, the paper (well, the title and the abstract at least) linked is a comment on serum Cl, not sodium intake. The issue is one of internal regulation and perhaps water consumption. Insufficient Na or Cl is a problem, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have too much or that we don’t consume to much today.

      Unfortunately, as in many medical studies, controls are difficult. Most of the data is self-reported which is notoriously bad. But even with that, the majority of the literature continues to show increased mortality risks with higher levels of sodium.

      1. Yes but who ingests chloride without sodium? Gary Taubes wrote about the bad politicized science of salt research but if you want to argue the point you can take it up here, where I got the paper.

        Of course, when I started looking into this area, I went at it sideways. If we eat salt we are eating both sodium, and chloride. You cannot have one without the other. So I became interested in the chloride issue, not the sodium. We are always warned about sodium, but no-one ever mentions chloride levels. Is there any evidence that high chloride consumption is bad for us?

        This is an area mostly defined by silence, and zero research. But I have found a few papers looking at chloride levels in the blood and, guess what? They have all found that a low chloride level is associated with a higher mortality. Here is one such, entitled ‘Serum chloride is an independent predictor of mortality in hypertensive patients.’

      2. The literature does not show increased sodium as a risk. Full stop. Even for people with sodium responsive HTN. It does currently show that low sodium is a risk.
        As for getting too much: anyone with an operating set of kidneys self regulates their sodium load. “The world’s dumbest kidney is smarter than the world’s smartest internist,” or that’s what they taught us in evil medical school.

  5. This circumcision story *isn’t* really about circumcision! It’s about official extravagance. A Turkish official had a lavish Ottoman-style circumcision ceremony for his son at the tomb of a sultan, and now it’s been announced that the official has resigned.

    “After arriving on horseback, the little “prince” sat on a throne surrounded by imperial decorations, an Ottoman military band, as well as soldiers in historic garb, court entertainers and women dressed as concubines, all in honor of his circumcision.”


  6. “Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden would not get a fair trial ? and Kerry is wrong

    “Edward Snowden is the greatest patriot whistleblower of our time, and he knows what I learned more than four decades ago: until the Espionage Act gets reformed, he can never come home safe and receive justice”…..ionage-act

    This is interesting, because of all the progs and journalists who try to square their professed admiration for Ellsberg with their denunciations of Snowden.

    1. They’re excising his pictures from their pantheon as we speak.

      1. I’m not sure – it’s like they run these cases on separate tracks. On one track is the narrative about the brave Ellsberg standing up to Nixon and earning an honorable spot on the Enemies List. On the other track is the traitorous Snowden who failed to observe omerta.

        They just don’t think about these two cases at the same time, or in the same context, so it baffles them than anyone else would draw connections.

        1. It’s simple. One of them embarrassed a dangerous authoritarian rethuglitard, and the other embarrassed an enlightened democrat, for obviously racist reasons.

          1. Bingo. Principals, not principles.

            1. To be fair, a lot of liberals at the lower levels really do appreciate Snowden and hold him up like Ellsburg. It seems to mostly be the high level people hurt by this and the “the state is always right” people. Which, I’m guessing, was how Ellsburg was viewed when he first released the information. It takes time for the powers that be to forgive you for your “treachery” .

  7. And Michelle Obama’s opinion on this matters (more than any other private citizen not holding a relevant government office)…because?

    1. Apparently, when Barrack was elected.. she was too… they’re equal partners at the office, who share EVERYTHING..

      1. My progtard mother accused me of being sexist when I brought up the fact that when Wilson had his stroke, his wife was basically running the government with handwritten notes she purported were dictated to her by her comatose President. Because obviously the only possible reason you could oppose the wife of the President assuming the powers of the office would be sexism.

        1. Does your mother believe we are in a monarchy, and the FLOTUS is Queen?!

          1. Edith Wilson had a vagina, therefore she would have been a great President.

            How many times have you heard a woman espouse that if a woman was in charge, there would be no war or other bad things*. Because womynz are teh smart, not like those stupid men.

            *Does not apply to Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Empress Matilda, Catherine de Medici, Isabella of Castile, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Victoria, Tzu-Hsi, or Margaret Thatcher.

            1. “… and then one day when she had her period she felt icky, so she pushed the launch button and blew all the rat bastards up!”

    2. …more than any other private citizen not holding a relevant government office…

      She doesn’t even hold an office. She just sleeps with the POTUS. Therefore she’s an expert.

      1. That’s what I meant to convey.

    1. Speaking of Hawaii, here is the tale of McGarrett’s Mercury.

    2. love the captions.


  8. The photo just screams “WHITE PRIVILEGE”

  9. Wasn’t this program established by white men? Maybe the whole thing should be abolished.

  10. Just have the school day start & end a few hrs. later so none of it falls during lunch time.

  11. What Mrs. Obama doesn’t realize is that the National School Lunch Program is a federal program for rendering surplus food unfit for human consumption.

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