New School Food Bill Is Anything but Junk
The Senate just passed the Child Nutrition Act. This could be a turning point in the battle for healthy school meals, but will the industry back away quietly?
On Thursday, August 5th, the Senate unanimously passed the Child Nutrition Act, the federal legislation that stipulates the policy and funding for school meals. New policies include additional meal training and strengthened nutrition and fitness standards. To fund all of this, the bill allocates $4.5 billion, including an additional 6 cents per meal—the first non-inflationary revenue increase since 1973.
This school meal makeover also reduces student exposure to junk food. Now all edibles available in school will have to meet government guidelines, whether they be on the lunch line or in a vending machine. The 2010 Child Nutrition Act stipulates: “the Secretary shall establish science-based nutrition standards for...all foods sold outside the school meal program...at any time during the extended school day."
This means that many of the salty, fatty, prepackaged snacks that taunt our nation's school children may need to find a new market. But will the food industry simply walk away from such a valuable demographic?
Kids are big business. As Beverage Industry magazine once noted, "Influencing elementary school students is very important to soft-drink marketers because children are still establishing their tastes and habits... Entering the schools makes perfect sense." To ensure a lifetime of brand loyalty, food marketing goes beyond the lunchroom, extending into giveaways, hallway and bus ads, and slightly-slanted educational materials (tax-deductible, of course).
The industry is so entrenched in our education system that schools across the nation now rely on junk food revenue to meet their bottom lines. As author Eric Schlosser said of one industry contract negotiator in his book, Fast Food Nation:
"In his three years following his groundbreaking contract for School District 11 in Colorado Springs, Dan DeRose negotiated agreements for seventeen universities and sixty public systems across the United States, everywhere from Greensville, North Carolina to Newark, New Jersey."
New York City has gone so far as to eliminate the competition, banning home cooked snacks from school fundraisers in favor of prepackaged products. Though the DOE claims that the baked goods ban is meant to create a healthier school environment, preexisting contracts with vendors (to the tune of $28 million over five years) may be partly to blame.
Thankfully, the Senate has set policy in motion that might break the cycle. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act sets aside $1 million for research into "the extent and types of marketing of foods and beverages in elementary and secondary schools." This includes:
brand and product logos, names, or information on educational materials, book covers, school supplies, posters, vending machine exteriors, scoreboards, displays, signs equipment, buses, buildings and other school property; educational and other incentive programs; label redemption programs; in-school television, radio and print publications; free samples and coupons; branded fundraising activities; taste-testing and other market research activities.
Given this vast array of advertising methods, $1 million will have to go a long way if we plan to eliminate junk foods and related marketing from our nation's schools. In the meantime, the industry is at work tweaking package sizes and calorie counts, hoping to find a niche in the new system.
Companies like PepsiCo are ahead of the game. The industry giant recently announced that it will voluntarily remove its full sugar beverages from schools worldwide.
But without a clear and calculated push to remove junk food and related marketing from America's schools, the industry will simply develop new formulas and packaging that allow their products to squeeze into the government's guidelines. Children will still have constant access to heavily processed snacks with little nutritional value, only now they will be told that these items are a sound choice.
The Childhood Nutrition Act awaits a vote from the House, and we can only hope that reauthorization there goes as smoothly as it did in the Senate. Until then, we must commit wholeheartedly to changing both the philosophy and funding behind school food, so the next generation has the foundation they need to understand proper nutrition and healthy habits.
Tami O’Neill is the assistant editor for The Monday Campaigns, a nonprofit public health initiative. She currently lives, works, and blogs in New York City.
Honoring the Dead By Feeding Them The sweet (and savory) hereafter of Día de los Muertos Understanding the food-filled altars of Día de los Muertos
Drawing a Bead on a Better World The Purple Buddha Project attempts to forge beauty out of ugly histories that continue to alter life in the present.
The Message-Maker: On the Ground with Baltimore Street Artist GAIA Internationally acclaimed artist uses painting to reach his city.
Buckets are the New Pumpkins Do you annually waste nourishing squash flesh on bourgeois porch displays? Jettison the traditional jack-o’-lantern with this one simple trick
Watch Out for the Witch Flick A guide to the positive, negative, and complicated depictions of women as witches in movies, warts and all
The Not-So-Mad Science of Head Transplants We may soon be able to successfully graft a human head onto a different body, but is it worth the cost in terms of dollars and ethics?
A Friendly Game of International Border Subversion Activists in Morocco and Algeria hope to play a volleyball game using the countries’ mutual border as a net
13 Spooky Sites That Redefine the Term Skeleton Structure Humans have been using bones as building materials for centuries While world religions and ancient history are replete with alternative burial solutions, some of the most mesmerizing are found in ossuaries
Teacher’s Little Reading Helper Know any child iPad addicts who should be learning how to read instead of playing Candy Crush? Try Bam Boomerang
How Elves and Serpents are Saving Iceland for Future Generations Most Iceland residents believe in magic to some degree, and it’s helping to preserve the environment, foster community … and rake in tourism dollars
5 Tales of Halloween Heartbreak A conversation about growing up in the U.S. without celebrating national dress-up-and-get-free-candy day