Digging Deeper


Do you support the new school lunch guidelines?

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned during my year here at Harvest Public Media – and being back in the Midwest after more than 20 years away – is that food is the new Red State-Blue State debate.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the new school lunches regulations set out by the USDA. (It’s not half as dull as you think. And just so you’re not clicking away, I promise some funnies from Jon Stewart.)

The “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010” just went into effect this fall, a law that calls for combatting child obesity by limiting calories, upping the serving of fruits and vegetables and limiting salt.  First Lady Michelle Obama helped promote the plan.

"As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet. And when we're putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, and sugar foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables."

Healthy meals for kids is a good idea, right? Hold on.

Predictably, school kids are reacting in the best way they know how: 1.) to put up a parody video on YouTube, or 2.) toss their new lunch in the trash.

The video – done by some Sharon Springs, Kan. high school kids – is kinda funny. Set to the tune of “We Are Young,” the kids sing that “tonight, we are hungry,” and shows student athletes passing out at practice because they haven’t had enough to eat. They also suggest another age-old tradition: running out to the local mini-mart to stock up on chips and pop. At this writing, it’s had more than 857,000 views.

But here’s the whole story: while a teacher wrote the piece and kids acted in it, it’s being pushed by two Midwestern Republicans.  According to the Facebook page “Nutrition Nannies,” (a not-so-subtle reference to the conservative anathema “nanny state)” the video is being promoted by U.S. Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. They have introduced the "No Hungry Kids Act,” which would repeal the new USDA regulations.

Today, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, sent a letter to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack demanding more information on the new rules. His constituents have told him, he wrote, that there is “excessive plate waste” and “insufficient calories and protein.”

The peeps involved with protein production are upset about the new rules, too.  Amanda Radke, a South Dakota rancher, wrote in Beef Magazine that her younger sister, a high school student who plays sports, works on her family’s ranch and participates in 4-H, wouldn’t get enough calories to keep up her energy for her busy schedule. Under the new guidelines, high school kids get 10-12 oz. of protein over the week, meaning roughly 2 oz. a day. Radke said she told her sister to take her own lunch to school.

She can get enough protein in her diet by pre-cooking steaks to thinly slice and toss on salads, cooking a roast to have shredded beef sandwiches, or making beef chili or stew and keeping it hot in a thermos until lunch time. These options provide the protein power she needs to be a smart student, strong athlete and productive ranch kid.

So what do you think? Do the new USDA guidelines on school lunches offer enough food for students? Should the new regulations be overturned? Are your kids happy with the new lunches? Share your experience with the Harvest Network.

And if I haven’t convinced you yet that food is Red State-Blue State, let’s let Jon Stewart fill you in on the brouhaha. Check out his piece called “Starved by the Bell.” Mocking the media for making it a story, Stewart wondered why it was news that kids think school lunches suck. He then threw what could be considered a "nerd grenade" at the media for it. What's that? Well, you'll just have to watch the piece to learn the answer.