Kids don’t eat their vegetables. No news there. But new rules about school lunches have got some students and their parents up in arms against an overreaching federal government.
As described by the LA Times, the new rules mandate more fruits and vegetables for school lunches. This seems like a good thing. But as the LA Times editors argued recently,
the program is afflicted by rigid, overreaching regulations that defy common sense. Schools must provide items from five food groups, including a fruit and a vegetable, every day. Students must choose three items, even if they’re not hungry enough for all of them, and at least one must be produce. But fruits and vegetables rank as the least popular items, so requiring schools to offer one of each for each student practically guarantees that an enormous amount of fruits and vegetables will go to waste.
More colorfully, the editors at Twitchy compiled a series of student tweets about the new lunch rules. Be warned: these tweets include some harsh language, most of it directed at First Lady Michelle Obama. Obama, of course, has made healthy food one of her signature programs. One student memorably complained, “Sorry michelle obama but i dont wanna eat crusty ass broccoli for lunch at school.”
As historian Susan Levine demonstrated, the history of school lunch is fraught with the politics of poverty, influence, and agriculture. In their early days, powerful US Senators such as Richard Russell of Georgia promoted school lunches as a guaranteed market for struggling farmers. In the 1960s, federal policy-makers began to see school food as a way to address economic inequality in society. By guaranteeing meals for low-income students, it was hoped, school food could even the playing field somewhat.
So there’s nothing new about school lunch as a tool of social engineering. And there’s also nothing new about conservative outraged reactions. As Baylen Linnekin insisted in the pages of Reason recently,
The government’s efforts to pad school lunch enrollment numbers by expanding the program should be seen as what it is: a cynical attempt to avoid admitting failure. There’s nothing palatable about that.
Even here, though, it seems libertarian and/or conservative pundits will be on tricky terrain. Perhaps the new lunch program is unpopular. And perhaps the government has assumed an enormous role in the feeding of America’s children. But who wants to be on the side of nixing fruits and vegetables?