More and more Americans’ meals resemble dessert, and Congress is to blame for our collective national stomachache.
School cafeterias have been under siege for three decades, ever since Ronald Reagan declared ketchup to be a vegetable. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed by Congress in 2010 raised the national per-pupil lunch expenditure from $2.80 to $2.86. But this increase wasn’t enough to allow school cafeterias to subsist on their own—much less cover the cost of a carrot. Instead of upping the amount, last week Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations decided to gut their own the ridiculously low bar by allowing schools to “opt-out” of the federal nutrition standards. This will no doubt start to roll back the nutrition standards for all schools, which Congress expects will culminate in the No Hungry Kids Act, currently winding its way through the House. We might as well call this the “Dessert for Lunch Act.”
Why did Congress engage in this schizophrenic exercise? Because the American Legislative and Exchange Council, a lobbying group for the food and drug industries, makes campaign contributions to 338 of 535 members of Congress. The documentary movie Fed Up (full disclosure: I’m in it) is an exposé of how the food industry has undermined the American diet to foment a pandemic of obesity and diabetes, all in the name of profit—and how the U.S. Congress has aided and abetted the industry at every turn. As an example,Congress one-upped Reagan by declaring that pizza sauce is now a vegetable.