The Food Companies Own You

Did you hear a bit of buzz about potatoes being banned from school lunches and tomato paste on pizza counting as a vegetable?

That was part of Congress’ push-back against new regulations proposed by the Department of Agriculture, which administers the National School Lunch Program.

Instead, Congress wrote a spending bill that has done the following:

~refuses to allow the USDA guidelines to limit starchy vegetables–including corn, potatoes, and peas–to two servings per week. (The goal here was to cut down on french fries, which many schools serve daily.)

~allows the USDA to continue to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The USDA wanted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable–but that’s much more than goes on pizza.

~requires “further study” on USDA sodium-reduction requirements. (seriously.)

OK. So why would Congress block measures to make school lunches healthier?

Quite simply, because Big Food Companies make big money from processing food. As Lucy Komisar wrote in the New York Times this weekend:

“Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.”

So let’s say a district gets a box of chicken worth $10 for free as part of the USDA commodities program, and it’s up to them to prepare the stuff. Or they can contract with Sodexho, or Aramark, or some other multinational, who gets the free box of chicken and turns it into a box of chicken nuggets that costs over $30. There are big profits to be made in processing.

I think Jamie Oliver said it most clearly on Jimmy Kimmel:

the food companies of America own you…these moron frozen food companies — pizza industry, french-fry industry — have basically bought, bribed, bullied Congress, who have completely let everyone down, into basically making it okay to feed [students] french fries every day.”

Any wonder childhood obesity continues to rise?

And let’s not forget: it’s the poorest kids who most depend on school food for their nutrition.

Our kids deserve better than this.



3 thoughts on “The Food Companies Own You

  1. Our school district has done a great job of revamping school lunch. They still serve plenty of pizza, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets, but the fries are oven-baked, all pastas and breads (including burger rolls and such) are whole grain, fresh fruit and milk come with lunch (which costs $2) but extras, including yogurt, cereal bars, and dessert, cost extra. A local chef and some kids came up with a new dish, the “Fiesta Wrap” (a black bean and quinoa burrito) that won a national award and now appears on the lunch menu about once a month. But I know that, being a fairly wealthy school district (although we have a pretty big contingent of low-income kids at my kids’ particular school and several others) and having involved parents, we probably have some advantages many other school districts don’t. This seems like such a no-brainer—to serve good quality, minimally processed, nutritious food in the one place where kids don’t have a whole lot of choice about what to eat, especially if lunch (and sometimes breakfast, which is also provided in our school district to any child who qualifies for free lunch) is the only full meal some kids get.

  2. Ug. We more than qualify for free lunch, but I could not allow my daughter to stay on it b/c the offerings were so bad. I’d rather stand in line for free food that gets cast-off from health food stores than let the school give her bad pizza once a week, sugary drinks, and never a good vegetable…

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