Too many cooks?

A number of chefs are coming on board to try and make school lunches better.

We can add Rachael Ray’s name to the list of celebrity chefs who thinks she can make school lunch better.

Apparently at the invitation of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Ray recently appeared before Congress to argue for changes in the school lunch program.

According to an article in The New York Times, Ray and Gillibrand are advocating a 70-cent increase in the reimbursement rate for child for school lunches. For perspective, the current reauthorization bill in front of Congress would increase the rate by six cents. (To their credit, the two women said they would settle for “a smaller increase,” said The Times.)

They would also like an amendment added to the bill that would ban trans fats from school foodservice, a measure that The Times said the Senate Agriculture Committee has balked at. (I’m not sure why it would oppose something that most school districts already have done through local and state mandate.)

The newspaper article both amused and annoyed me. I was amused to see that U.S. senators can be just as starstruck as anyone else—one senator reportedly spent five minutes during the hearing telling Ray about his favorite recipes and grocery stores.

I was annoyed that The Times would give so much credit to the wrong person for making New York City school meals healthier. For example, a sentence in the article stated: “Her latest coup was persuading the city’s schools to use whole wheat pasta in macaroni and cheese.” This must have come as a surprise to New York City SchoolFood’s executive chef, Jorge Collazo, who has worked for several years to make whole wheat products the standard in the nation’s largest school system—an effort chronicled not only in the pages of this magazine but in other publications as well, such as U.S. News & World Report.

In the end, if the spotlight shed on chefs like Rachael Ray, Jamie Oliver and Ann Cooper results in significant positive change for the National School Lunch Program, operators won’t complain. But, as I’ve said before, Congress should be ashamed of itself for ignoring the pleas of the people who have tried for decades to make the NSLP work, as if people like Ray—who, let’s not forget, has been a shill for Dunkin’ Donuts—and Oliver somehow know more about making school meals more healthful. I wonder who will be the next celebrity chef to not only jump on the healthy school food bandwagon but want to drive it, as well.

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