WASHINGTON -- In today's current climate, it seems so easy for any issue to become political. School lunches are no exception.
In a Monday press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said newly-appointed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has moved to "make school meals great again." He announced it at a Virginia school where a small crowd came to protest. It's all for a few relatively small moves around school lunches.
To understand what happened today, one must go back to 2010 when then First Lady Michelle Obama pushed for the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. It put in sweeping regulations to improve the nutrition of school lunches. But on Monday, Secretary Perdue froze two of those measures and rolled back one.
Under Perdue, the USDA will allow schools next year to be exempt from serving only grains that are whole-grain rich. It will also enable schools to bring back 1% milk and will freeze the restrictions on sodium that were scheduled to tighten again this coming year.
Why do this? Perdue said the meals as-is might be nutritious, but are far from delicious.
"We all know that meals cannot be nutritious if they aren't consumed, if they're put in the trash," the secretary said. "I want to assure those of you who think we're reversing -- We're not unwinding any standards as well. We're giving these workers the flexibility to move."
But Ashley Bennett, the senior wellness coordinator for Strong4Life, a group formed by Children's Hospital of Atlanta who's aim is to help parents raise healthier families, disagreed with Secretary Perdue's assessment of the Obama guidelines.
"Most schools are implementing those standards, and a lot of them aren't seeing those plate waste we keep hearing about," Bennett said.
On their own, Perdue's moves won't change too much. However, critics fear that it marks the start of a larger change in direction from a first lady who made nutrition and health a main cause. Perdue says it simply gives schools flexibility.
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