Organization of school cafeteria workers says 'no' to speech by WH nutrition czar

According to this Politico report, the School Nutrition Association - a group of school cafeteria workers - has rejected a request by the White House Nutrition Czar to speak at their convention.

The significance of this is that two years ago, the SNA and the White House were joined at the hip. The Czar, celebrity chef Sam Kass, handed out awards that year in Denver at the group's annual convention.

But two years later, the SNA is fighting Michelle Obama's relentless attack on tasty foods saying that the blizzard of memos and policy changes has become too much.

At stake is the health of millions of kids, an $11 billion school lunch program dominated by big food companies that want to build brand loyalty early and even the legacy of the first lady — who has made combating the childhood obesity epidemic her primary cause.

So while the specifics might look like a food fight, behind the clash are all the big forces that shape major political battles — money, lobbying muscle, big personalities — and an ideological split over the size and role of the federal government, especially when it comes to kids.

“Our members are very frustrated,” said Patricia Montague, SNA’s CEO.

“Everybody is feeling a little bit stretched and stressed by what they’re facing,” she said, citing an onslaught of policy memos and regulations.

Montague acknowledged that Kass, through the Department of Agriculture, asked to speak at SNA’s conference this week “to rally the troops” on the nutrition standards. This year, roughly 6,500 school nutrition professionals are attending the conference, which runs through Wednesday in Boston.

“We didn’t feel [our members] wanted to hear the rallying call,” she said. “We felt it was best he not come.”

The first lady’s office declined to comment on Kass’ request to speak.

That’s a big difference from Kass’ appearance at SNA’s 2012 convention, in Denver, where he presented chef coats to the cafeteria professionals who appeared with him on an emotional episode of “Chopped” a few months earlier.

“It’s not often that school nutrition employees receive positive affirmation for the work they do on behalf of the nation’s children — much less be recognized for it on national television!” read SNA’s plug of Kass’ appearance at the gathering.

But a lot has changed since 2012, when major school meal reforms started kicking in. Schools have since started having to serve whole-grain-rich versions of pizza; kids now have to take a fruit or vegetable with their meals; and trans fat is no longer allowed. Ninety percent of schools are meeting the already phased-in standards, which come with more federal funding, and districts across the country have transformed their menus to include more scratch cooking.

We've already had several incidents of kids rejecting the tree bark/alfalfa menu advocated by Mrs. Obama. Parents are reporting that their children would rather go hungry than eat some of the required food that cafeteria's must serve.

There is pushback across the board, including outrage at the ban on birthday cupcakes and bake sales to raise money for school projects. But this hasn't stopped Mrs. Obama who insists that healthy eating by kids should be stuffed down their gullets by bureaucrats and health nazis.

Certainly there is a balance to be found here.There's nothing wrong with offering fruit and veggies to kids, nor is it improper to educate children on healthy eating. But putting schools in regulatory strait jackets is not the answer and will not lead to a reduction in obesity as kids will sneak the foods they crave anyway.




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