Has the Last Apple been Thrown in this Food Fight?
Written by Milt Miller – The Senate Agriculture Committee has agreed to roll back some issues in the National School Lunch Program’s Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 guidelines, on Wednesday, January 20, 2016, in a show of true bi-partisan politics and compromise. The changes in the proposed re-authorization of the National School Lunch Act, that will provide some increased flexibility for schools to plan menus that will be more acceptable to our nation’s students, are the result of the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) continued lobbying on behalf of its member schools nationwide. Without the continued efforts of the SNA to present common sense concerns and rational solutions, on behalf of its constituents, I fear no improvements would have come about.
By pointing out the flaws in this needed but over regulated act, SNA provided actual facts and first hand observations from within the industry, to show what wasn’t working as well as providing workable solutions without greatly hampering the Act’s intent and purpose. Though hotly criticized by the medical professionals, child nutrition activists, and the White House, SNA held fast to its position and the position of its members. Aligning with the newly elected Republican Congress allowed for necessary leverage to achieve this compromise, without which no change would have been affected.
The SNA position, stated unwaveringly over the past five years, has been one of softening issues hampering school food operation’s self-sustainability and one of improving the wellbeing of America’s school children. Never once had they lobbied for the repeal or rollback of the entire program, as they have been accused by their critics. Again, thank you SNA.
As everyone is aware, the true sense of compromise is everyone wins and everyone loses. In the case of this bi-partisan compromise, it appears that one side has maintained more of the original Act and the other side has gotten some small, but necessary changes. Looking at the proposed legislation going before the Senate and the House in the near future, there appears to be some needed roll backs in the percentage of whole grains that must be offered and a hold on the sodium restrictions for at least two more years. These changes are definitely a step in the right direction and do provide some needed flexibility, but in no way do they ease the burden of increased cost and increased waste created by the implementation of the original act and its continued additional restrictions over the past five years. This compromise appears to be more of an offer of an olive branch rather than an attempt to fix the inequities in the program for the sustainability of school lunch operations.
Granted the roll back of the requirement on whole grains from 100% to 80% provides added flexibility in menu development and the provision of products students find more acceptable. Pushing back the sodium restrictions for at least another two years will allow many favorite items to remain on the menu, but nothing really has been done to address the increased cost of compliance, increased waste, or acceptable revisions to the Smart Snacks in Schools regulations.
An olive branch again has been offered in the waste situation, as the Secretary of Agriculture is directed by this act, to conduct studies to eliminate waste of fruits and vegetables through the increased use of salad bars and share tables. Both of these service models are deemed by the health departments of some states as unsafe food handling practices. Salad bars can create waste due to overproduction, poor rotation of product, and contamination, and share tables are collection areas for unwanted products that can be taken and consumed by individuals desiring extra portions of those products during the meal period. What if no one wants them? What if these foods become contaminated or are tampered with and a food borne illness is contracted from consuming them? Where does the liability lie? I do not believe this is an adequate solution to the waste issue. Addressing the increased cost issue was totally passed over as expected. The Secretary has been directed to appoint a committee to assess the Smart Snack guidelines and make recommendations for acceptable products to be allowed. This is a step in the right direction.
Increased funding for Summer Food Programs, facility upgrades, increased technology, and staff development have remained intact, the CRE or every three year state review of school food programs has been moved back to every five years, and the words “Buy American” have been added to the development of future procurement and purchasing requirements. Outside of a few other changes in language the act has remained intact.
Please do not interpret my comments as unappreciative or ungrateful. I am grateful for what changes and revisions have been made. They were necessary. I am thankful for SNA”s diligence in pushing for the flexibility and improvements that have been penned into this proposed bi-partisan legislation. I know that SNA will be supportive of these improvements and keep working to influence further improvements in the future. I just hope that this is not the last apple thrown in the food fight to improve child nutrition regulations.
Milt Miller is the Principal and Chief Innovator at Milton Miller Consulting. Throughout his 32 years in the food service industry he has managed, operated and assisted food service programs to become successful. For more information on this and other topics, contact Milt at; www.miltonmillerconsultant.com.