Good Law, Better Food


Now and then, some of us in the parson’s gig just have to take a hiatus from trying to save the world. Be a civilian for a while. Make furniture. Fix cars. Maybe even teach school.

A decade ago, I took a three-year respite from the parish. Since I’m neither a carpenter nor a mechanic, I dusted off a teaching credential and through the auspices of my old basketball coach, landed a job at my hometown school. Junior high. Social studies. Think braces, zits and hormones.

Two things did I learn about seventh-graders:

• One, they’re blood relatives to the adolescent spider monkeys at your average city zoo – frenzied, hormone-fueled creatures whose primary mission in life is to find increasingly more obnoxious means to freak out their elders and each another.

• Two, the little hellions will eat their weight in junk food given half a chance.

Earlier this month, Michelle Obama weighed in on junk food and school kids; and the blowback from the former governor of Alaska has been epic.

As for Ms. Obama, she called for food-related school fundraisers to start cutting back on the sugar, fat and white flour. Turns out that bake sales work just fine for scoring the contraband goodies gone AWOL from the cafeteria and vending machines.

As for Ms. Palin, she appears to believe that empty calories are the birthright of every citizen, school children withstanding. In her world, free-market theory evidently trumps increased risk for diabetes, hypertension and every other obesity-related condition you can name.

Now, were it not for S. 3307, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, all the bluster would be just another case study in why Sarah Palin should not allowed anywhere near seats of power. But bigger forces are at play. With help from the First Lady, S. 3307 includes a provision limiting junk food-based school fundraisers that amount to end runs around good nutrition. In other words, when the president signs this thing, not only will schools be expected to feed more kids with better meals; they’ll have to come up with fundraisers that don’t hawk the very foods the bill is supposed to regulate.

Opponents of the bill were quick to point out that this stipulation will impact the way public schools help fund their programs. And they’re right. Boards, staffs, parents and students themselves will need to develop new fundraising models. And it’s incumbent upon Congress to provide that initial support. Straight up, anything less is an exercise in more unfunded mandates.

For fans of better nutrition, it’s hard not to be encouraged by S. 3307. At a time when fully 30% of kids 18 and younger are overweight or obese, this bill is a long overdue intervention on a public education system that has for generations enabled poor eating habit. Only an ideologue could discount its potential.

Parents, educators and politicians made this legislation happen. It’s good law and it’s not a minute too soon. As for the rest of us, we need to shoot off the emails and get on the blower to support them in that endeavor. They need to know that we’re paying attention and want this thing to work. Because while we’ve been occupied with stuffing kids’ brains with the right information, we’ve been stuffing their bodies with the wrong food. This bill is an admission of that fact and a promise to do better.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2011

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