I can think of many reasons why school food is such a hot topic these days: kids eat a significant portion of their daily calories in schools, schools set an example for what is appropriate for kids to eat, and schools are a learning environment. Heres the latest on whats happening on the school food scene:
1. The New York City Education Department announces new rules for school vending machines, as part of its new school wellness policies. According to the account in the New York Times, the vending machines have been empty since the Snapple contract ended in August (Really? Thats not what I observed a couple of weeks ago). The new standards will exclude the worst of the products but the lesser evils will still be competing for students food dollars, thereby continuing to undermine the solvency and integrity of the school meal programs.
2. The CDC reports (MMWR, October 5) that junk food is rampant in schools, but the percentage of schools in which children are not permitted to buy junk food or sodas is increasing in at least 37 states.
3. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) takes the USDA to task for not alerting schools when foods in the school meals programs meat or peanut butter, for example have been recalled because they are contaminated with dangerous bacteria. Usually, the GAO talks straight to government. I dont know what happened in this case but here is its first, rather incoherent, recommendation to USDA regarding the USDAs Food and Nutrition Service (FNS):
To better ensure the safety of foods provided to children through the school meal programs, and to make improvements in three areas related to recalls affecting schools: interagency coordination; notification and instructions to states and schools; and monitoring effectiveness, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct FNS and that the Secretary of HHS should direct FDA to jointly establish a time frame for completing a memorandum of understanding on how FNS and FDA will communicate during FDA investigations and recalls that may involve USDA commodities for the school meal programs, which should specifically address how FDA will include FNS in its prerecall deliberations.The other recommendations make somewhat more sense. They begin by repeating the first part up through the Secretary of USDA should direct FNS to:
4. The GAO has produced yet another report, this one devoted to getting states to comply with federal rules about meal counting and claims. These are measures designed to make sure that ineligible kids dont get fed. I wish I knew how much money such measures cost. They are a tragic waste. We need universal school meals. Period.
5. And then there is Jamie Oliver, who has transformed the British school meals system and is now attempting to bring his school food revolution to the United States (see the food issue of the New York Times magazine). One can only wish him luck.
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