Food for Thought

Food fight pits junk food-obsessed Ag commissioner against advocates for healthy school lunches

Junk food-crazy Ag commissioner squares off against healthy eaters

Austin Photo Set: News_Leila Kalmbach_school lunch tempts_August 2011_1
What will happen to the healthy school lunch in Texas? Courtesy of Cooking for Monkeys
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller cupcakes
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller issued "amnesty" for cupcakes in schools even though they had not been banned. KXAN.com
News_school lunch
Is this a healthy school lunch? Courtesy photo
News_Ruthie_school lunches_Steamed Cauliflower
Some schools have introduced healthy alternatives like steamed cauliflower. Photo by Ruthie Johnson Miller
Austin Photo Set: News_Leila Kalmbach_school lunch tempts_August 2011_1
Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller cupcakes
News_school lunch
News_Ruthie_school lunches_Steamed Cauliflower

I remember when school lunch was an apple and a tuna salad sandwich in a brown paper bag that mom sent me out the door with.

But times and tastes changed when I got to high school and all the cool teens started buying pizza and coke and candy bars. And for seniors, who could leave campus during lunch and if someone had a car, it was hello Dairy Queen!

But if I were a kid today I’d be packing sushi and organic fruits to eat.

And a lot of parents and kids share that view of wanting to eat healthy, but not all.

 In Texas almost a quarter of school age children are obese. Not fat, clinically obese. This is a trend that has been growing for quite awhile. 

Certainly not Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

In January his first act as head of the ag agency was to …

Nope not to address drought, or the feral hog problem and any other issue threatening family farms.

…issue amnesty for cupcakes, allowing them back in schools.

And Miller got a lot of mileage out of that, including spots on Fox News.

The only problem was that Texas never banned kids from bringing cupcakes to school.

“That was his first official act,” sighs Houstonian Bettina Elias Siegel. “And now he wants to repeal state laws banning deep fat fryers and sales of diet soda in schools.”

Siegel has spent the last several years fighting to keep school foods healthy. She writes a blog called The Lunch Tray and sits on two H.I.S.D. nutrition committees. She also writes op eds for newspapers around the nation.

In Texas almost a quarter of school age children are obese. Not fat, clinically obese. This is a trend that has been growing for quite awhile.

“Ten years ago then-commissioner Susan Combs (also a Republican) instituted guidelines to restrict competitive foods (vending machines and fund raiser items).

“But now Miller wants to repeal those. He wants to bring back deep fat fryers that were banned and allow soda companies to sell diet sodas in vending machines and repeal the ‘time and place’ restrictions that ban groups from selling junk food in the cafeteria during lunch hours.”

You can see a list of the proposed changes here.

Siegel is far from the only one concerned about this reversal of access to junk food on school campuses.

Gracie Cavnar, founder of the Recipe for Success Foundation that educates school children about food and nutrition in fun ways, started a petition on change.org against the proposed changes.

The public comment period is now closed and we’ll have to wait and see what happens in Austin. But Siegel isn’t holding her breath.

“I doubt many school are going to go out and spend money buying deep fat fryers again,” she says. “And school districts can set their own priorities. H.I.S.D. is very nutrition conscious, I don’t see them returning to the junk food age.

“But what I do worry about is that his agency is charged with our children’s nutrition and with his rhetoric I think he’s sending a signal that he won’t even enforce the federal laws that regulate the school lunches.”

I am sure the feds would have something to say about that but what message is he sending parents and children?

It’s OK to stuff yourself with fat, sugar and empty calories? Pretty sure the 20 + percentage of obese Texas teens already buy that.

Hey, maybe he’ll add deep-fried rodeo food to the menu!