Yesterday for lunch, I had a sandwich made with turkey, bacon, cheese, green peppers and spinach on ciabatta bread. (I also had a venti mocha from Starbucks, which was a bad idea because I’m pretty sure their coffee is partially composed of Ex-Lax.) Except for the bacon and cheese, neither of which I can live without, I’d say it was a fairly healthy option. When you hit your twenties, veggies become much more attractive. Don’t expect new federal guidelines to sway K-12 students in that direction.
The guidelines were announced by First Lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and celebrity chef Rachael Ray, queen of chili cheese fries. They would impose limits on calories, salt, fats (especially trans fats) and various ingredients deemed unhealthy. School districts will receive federal funding to help with the transition, and will extend similar limits on subsidized meals for low-income students to all other meals.
The reasons school lunches have been so unhealthy in recent years is mostly economic. With schools and districts seeing their funding diminish, they have outsourced their food services to private corporations (notably Aramark, the heathens behind the cafeteria at my old college), who mostly depend on frozen and heavily processed food from one or two interstate suppliers. Were they to rely on fresh food from multiple local suppliers, you can bet they’d pass on the costs to the schools.
In short, healthier food is great, when you can get it. That’s the problem. The federal government wants to be the facilitator of less costly access to good food, which they’d be authorized to do if not for the mandate. Making school lunches healthier is relatively low on Americans’ list of “Things For Which We’ll Forgive New Federal Deficit Spending,” if it’s there at all. And with the First Lady spearheading it, it’s hard not to see it as a pet cause, which few want from her.
Instead of specific nutritional guidelines, which would be impossible to enforce without some new task force, they could make this effort simpler: buy local, fresh and healthy and keep current funding; buy the same old crap and get crap in return. It’s not impossible to find people in town who would gladly sell it to schools, often for the same price. Individual schools and districts have done it before without federal help. They need to be giving the advice.
In the end, when it comes to economics, people respond to governments when they offer rewards and punishments at the same time, not one or the other. President Obama has a habit of painting people into a corner when he wants them to do something. A person with better persuasion skills knows this is the surest way to make people rebel.