July 16 2014
Don't Mess with the School Nutrition Association
Politico reports this week that the First Lady’s food policy staffer (and Food Network star) Sam Kass’ request to speak to the School Nutrition Association’s annual meeting was declined. Wow! The School Nutrition Association (SNA) isn’t messing around. Declining Michelle Obama's star student's request to speak is a bold and courageous move on the part of the SNA— a powerful organization that represents 55,000 cafeteria workers, which originally supported the First Lady’s push to change school meals.
So, why the snub?
First, some background: The SNA was originally supportive of the First Lady’s efforts to reform the school lunch program and backed the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. Yet, after the changes were implemented, the SNA began hearing reports (from their members) of real problems – such as kids going hungry and massive food waste -- and warned officials that the changes were problematic for many school districts. In addition to the problems of getting kids to actually eat the food, SNA members are also concerned about losing money as kids are dropping out of the school lunch program in record numbers. This puts a lot of pressure on school nutrition directors who are required to provide healthier meals (which usually cost more) without adequate revenue coming in.
In response to all of these problems and to give some school districts relief, the SNA backed a provision in this year’s Appropriations bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) to provide a waiver to some school districts (the ones losing money) to opt-out of the school lunch reforms. The opt-out was temporary. In other words, the schools still needed to comply but they would be given more time to adjust to the changes. Seems reasonable, right?
Nope…not according to the White House.
The White House was enraged and the First Lady called a meeting with school nutrition directors (I wrote about that meeting here) but according to the SNA, didn’t include any from school districts that were concerned or that needed to opt-out.
That’s super. Ignore the very people who are complaining and invite a bunch of people who will merrily go along with the sycophantic group-think. Sounds like a solid policy.
What’s more, the White House suggested that SNA members were selling out to Big Food and USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon even sounded vaguely threatening when he said the SNA was "playing with fire" for going against the White House. These charges of selling out are particularly rich coming from a First Lady that once worked for Big Food and an Administration that hasn’t yet reformed it’s system of sending agriculture commodities (which is often prepared by large food companies) to schools.
What’s even more galling is that the SNA represents people who are on the front lines in the school lunch wars. These are the men and women who have to plan the meals while staying within a very strict budget while also complying with all of these new and confusing regulations. SNA members aren't making up these problems. They hear the complaints from the kids and parents. They care about these kids and work hard every single day with limited food choices and even more limited resources.
To suggest they're all a bunch of sellouts to Big Food isn’t just a big lie, it’s a big insult.
So, here's the lesson: when you insult the host, you don’t get invited to the party.