Tales of the Red Tape #21: USDA’s Affirmative Action for Vegetables
Diane Katz /
First they came for the donuts, and few dared to defend partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. Then they came for the soft drinks, declaring high-fructose corn syrup verboten. Now they’re after lima beans, peas, and corn, moving us ever closer to a national diet of tofu and kale.
“They,” in this latest case of dietary despotism, is the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). As required by Congress, the agency recently proposed stricter nutrition standards for school-based breakfast and lunch programs. More than 98,000 elementary and secondary schools will be affected—at a cost exceeding $3.4 billion in the next four years.
One among the proposed cafeteria mandates will undoubtedly leave many a lunch lady scratching her head (beneath the net, of course): No more than one cup per week of lima beans, peas, corn, or potatoes will be permitted each student.
Not that there is anything nutritionally unsound about these items, and most moms would be thrilled if their kids consumed more than a cup of peas each week. It’s just that Washington wants our children “to try new vegetables.” (That’s verbatim.) Consequently, schools would be required to provide more dark green, orange, and dry bean varieties in their place.
Obviously, the FNS is moving far a field of its original mission. When established in 1946, the National School Lunch Program was intended to address nutritional deficiencies in children’s diets. Now they are meddling in menu options in pursuit of palate diversity.
(The agency is exercising a modicum of flexibility, however. Schools in American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands may serve a starchy vegetable such as yams, plantains, or sweet potatoes to meet the grain/bread requirement.)
USDA officials acknowledge that the proposed regulations “may pose a particular challenge to implement.” What they don’t seem to grasp is that the feds have no business dictating the vegetable choices of our children in the first place.