An important cornerstone of Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House was his assertion that transparency would finally come to Washington. His recent speech on the federal budget has been championed by many critics of government for exposing the methods which have hidden costs from the American people by means of accounting sleight of hand. The reality of the budget situation is, as one could imagine, quite bleak but better to know what you’re facing before it smashes into your face.
How far will Obama’s call for open government go? The National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes lunch for under-privileged kids, is undergoing restructuring. Even the NSLP admits that the program is far from perfect– their latest data suggests that their meals fail the USDA’s standards when it comes to total and saturated fats– but many critics have been taking aim at the entire program’s structure. The subsidies program, which reimburses school districts based on the amount of meals served and at what cost, also offers a selection of vittles for schools to use in their menu planning. These commodities, due to economic and logistical pressures, tend towards the frozen, the preserved and the less than ideal. But struggling schools have to feed the children of struggling families. In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, yuppie demi-god Alice Waters envisions an integrated approach to feeding children healthy meals, providing better nutritional balance and eliminating processed foods from the menu.
Who decides what foods are made available to the NSLP? A consortium of scientists and nutritionists, of course, and such a meeting was recently held at the National Academy of Sciences. Presentations were made discussing nutritional needs, the merits of this vs. that, and a crowded auditorium took notes. Reporters? No, the only reporters on the scene were from American News Project. Educators? District Supervisors? Agriculturalists? Nope. The audience was thick with representatives from major food industry groups, companies and lobbying firms. These flies on the wall, in plain view of everyone, were researching what’s being discussed so that they can better grease the wheels of Washington and secure contracts with the government to continue selling crap to feed the children.
Is anyone even shocked that PepsiCo and The Pork Board are set to weigh in on what passes for school lunches? It’s a huge industry with a captive client and you can be sure that everyone from Monsanto to Hershey’s is looking through past contributions to see who owes them a favor. Will it be another year of back door dealings, will it be another case of money winning out over people? We shall see, and you can see:
Merci beaucoup Pete pour l’article de Mother Jones. There’s also a conversation with The Omnivores Dilemma author Michael Pollan which raises disparate but related concepts of food policy that I would have liked to highlight but had to let go of in order to be concise and not loose control of my typing. The picture of school children developing diabetes is by Owen Franken and stolen from the Amber Waves article cited above.