NPR's blog, The Salt (h/t Keep Food Legal), has a story that perfectly illustrates the absurdity of federal control over local school lunch programs.
According to the story, one Oregon lawmaker is upset that kids in his state aren't being allowed to eat a type of pear that grows locally. Oregon actually grows a lot of pears and not just the ones you commonly see in the grocery story store like D'Anjou, Bartlett and Bosc. Oregon grows the lesser known (and slightly more delicate) Comice pears. But the Comice pear isn't on the Feds list of approved items for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's School Lunch Program.
So, how do we solve the great Comice pear problem? Pass another bill, of course–a bill that will allow schools to buy these wonderful local pears. It's a feel good story from NPR about how these local guys are helping to bring local and fresh produce into the schools. But, not surprisingly, NPR's losing the bigger point: The very thing that banned Comice pears from schools in the first place was legislative meddling.
And we're seeing a slew of corrective bills come out of Washington too. Earlier this year, Congress voted to bring back the potato and killed a provision that would have banned counting a spoonful of pizza sauce as a vegetable (which of course became the "Congress calls pizza a vegetable" headline). Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is also drafting new school lunch legislation (to be added to the 2012 Farm Bill). His bill would remove federal restrictions on the types of fresh produce that schools can buy.
What would be more effective is if we scrapped the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (the bill pushed by the First Lady to improve school lunches) and returned responsibility for feeding kids to the states and local school districts. After all, isn't that the best way to get "local" food back on the school lunch menu? For all the First Lady's talk of "eat local," it is amazing that she backed a bill that takes the locals and local food out of the picture completely.
If we want healthy kids, we must detangle the federal government from local school feeding decisions. It's too bad it takes correcting an overly prescriptive school feeding bill to realize we didn't have it so bad in the first place.