Well, the new school meal guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were released Wednesday, and the early commentary is pretty predictable. The School Nutrition Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly ADA) are strongly supportive of the new measures. Fruit and vegetable growers and suppliers are happy; meat producers, not so much.
As of this writing, I’ve only found one newspaper columnist who has written about the announcement. Michael A. Walsh, with the tabloid New York Post, weighed in Thursday and—not surprising to anyone familiar with this conservative newspaper—his comments were on the negative side.
I mention the column, instead of ignoring it, because I found it so amusing. Under the headline, “Why the cafeteria crusade is a crock,” Walsh starts his screed with a little hyberbole: “There’s nothing about rutabagas in the Constitution, but that isn’t stopping the Department of Agriculture from trying to shove them down your kids’ throats.”
He continues with the listing of the USDA’s ‘crime’: “Under new school-lunch standards unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama, public schools are now required to offer fruits and vegetables daily, along with more whole-grain foods, low-fat milk and lower sodium. Oh yes, and there will be calorie counting, too.”
Now, after acknowledging that “it’s a good cause,” and citing studies about rising rates of obesity in this country—especially among children—Walsh lists his reasons for objecting to this “crusade.” Too costly? Too unworkable, given schools’ often limited kitchen space and equipment?
No, Walsh doesn’t suggest these problems. Instead, he argues, USDA’s new regulations are a waste of time because of one basic societal fact: people today choose to eat unhealthy foods.
“Poor nutrition is now a choice, not a fate,” he wrote, “and some families simply choose better. No amount of government coercion is going to change that. Because human beings will always find a way to do what they want to do.”
In other words, Walsh believes we’ve lost the war of the waistline, and so the USDA shouldn’t even try. Throw in the towel and serve up the burgers; obesity is here to stay. We’re here, we’re fat, get used to us.
To prove his “point,” he cited the Los Angeles Unified School District, where a menu revamp was scrapped and reworked after students rebelled.
In his 640-word op-ed piece, there was one statement with which I could agree. “The proper place to learn about nutrition is in the home. Pretend however you like, neither schools nor the government can magically make up the difference if parents fail to do their job.”
Walsh is right about that. But that doesn’t mean that schools and the government shouldn’t try. If they can’t make up the difference, at least they can make a difference.