Michelle Obama's name must really be mud in the school nutrition community these days.
I had to do a double-take when I read today's coverage of the School Nutrition Association's Annual Conference in Boston by Philip Marcelo at the Associated Press today. What Marcelo hid from the nation is that the SNA didn't want Michelle Obama or anyone else from the White House anywhere near their conference.
It wasn't even clear from Marcelo's writeup, though an accompanying photo did mention it, that the SNA was the conference's sponsor. Beyond that, the name "Michelle Obama" and even any mention of the White House were nowhere in the AP reporter's coverage — and the accompanying photo didn't bail him out this time.
I had to go to the USDA's "Nutrition Standards for School Meals" web page to remind myself that "the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA made the first major changes in school meals in 15 years." Michelle Obama owns it, but all of a sudden the AP, which slobbered all over itself praising her food-related initiatives during the past several years, doesn't want its readers to know that.
Helena Bottemiller Evich at the Politico did cover the extremely tense relationship between the SNA and the White House. Here are several paragraphs from yet another Politico report which seems, like so many other negative stories about this White House, destined to go and die without gaining further establishment press exposure (bolds are mine throughout this post):
White House asked to stay away from school nutrition summit
Michelle Obama’s food policy czar, celebrity chef Sam Kass, was once so in with the lunch lady crowd that he landed a guest judge spot on a tearful school lunch episode of Food Network’s “Chopped” and handed out awards at the School Nutrition Association’s convention in Denver.
Two years later, when he asked to speak at the group’s annual convention this week in Boston, the answer: “No.”
The rebuke shows how ugly the fight has become between the first lady and her supporters, who want kids to eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains in their school lunches, and the organization that represents cafeteria workers and their allies who argue that the federal government is going too far in its push for healthier meals.
At stake is the health of millions of kids, an $11 billion school lunch program dominated by big food companies that want to build brand loyalty early and even the legacy of the first lady — who has made combating the childhood obesity epidemic her primary cause.
... “Our members are very frustrated,” said Patricia Montague, SNA’s CEO.
“Everybody is feeling a little bit stretched and stressed by what they’re facing,” she said, citing an onslaught of policy memos and regulations.
... At SNA’s opening session in Boston on Sunday, Montague addressed the intense political fight and “media firestorm” head-on. She called accusations that her group “doesn’t care about kids” or is seeking to gut the program “hurtful and offensive.”
“You should be given the respect and deference that you so rightly deserve,” she said to a standing ovation.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) also spoke, but he advised SNA to work with the Obama administration and beware of House Republicans because he believes they want to dismantle the program.
Evich did not, and should have, included certain juicy (excuse the pun) details which the AP's Marcelo at least got around to, but without directing the blame at the First Lady where it belongs:
SCHOOL OFFICIALS TRY HEALTHIER CAFETERIA OPTIONS
... This fall, new requirements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will alter the makeup of school meals, calling for less sodium and more fruits and vegetables. Grain-based foods such as breads, tortillas, crackers and pastas will have to be rich in whole grains. Calorie, fat and sodium limits will be placed on snacks and drinks sold in school vending machines, snack bars and a la carte lines.
Schools must meet the requirements to be reimbursed by the federal government for what they spend on serving free and low-cost meals to low-income students, an important source of income for districts in an era of strapped school budgets.
Part of an effort to fight high childhood obesity levels, the nutritional mandates are being ramped up after first taking effect in 2012. Since then, more than 1 million students have stopped choosing to purchase school lunches, according to the School Nutrition Association. The group also says school cafeterias have wasted nearly $4 million in fruit and vegetables each day, as students end up throwing out foods they are served under the guidelines.
That has left districts searching for foods and recipes that fit the guidelines but are also more appealing to children.
Jackie Morgan, director of food services for Milton Public Schools outside Boston, sought whole-grain pasta for her district's youngest students, who rejected the administration's earlier attempts to make a healthier version of a lunchroom staple: macaroni and cheese.
"All of the children walked to the trash barrel and threw it away," she said, recalling that failed experiment about four years ago.
The school nutrition group, which organized this week's conference and represents about 55,000 school cafeteria and nutrition professionals, wants Congress to eliminate some of the new standards while keeping others at the same levels first imposed in 2012.
This once again proves that supposed free and unconditionally given federal money inevitably ends up having financially crippling and intimidating strings attached.
Combined, the AP and Politico efforts would have been a fairly good story. Separately, they're both incomplete, with the AP's effort far moreso than the Politico's.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.