Two Overweight White Men Are Deciding Our Food Agenda

May 04, 2017

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made the first move to undo a lot of the great work that Michelle Obama pushed hard for in our school lunch program.

“I think that parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won’t be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway.  I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards”. First Lady Michelle Obama at the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, December 13, 2010

I’m angry. First the Administration delayed legislation that would list basic calorie counts on prepared foods and beverages in restaurants, supermarkets, vending machines, movie theaters, sports stadiums and others saying that the FDA might not have all the relevant facts and HHS Secretary Price adds that he wants the rules to be more flexible and less burdensome. 

Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made the first move to undo a lot of the great work that Michelle Obama pushed hard for in our school lunch program (disclaimer: I served on the First Lady’s Chefs Move to School Committee to bring chefs into schools to educate students about foods and eating healthier). I witnessed first hand the First Lady at a school rally at the Nancy Moseley Elementary School inDallas, Texas where she implored hundreds of kids to study, exercise and eat healthier – and the kids loved the message. And in talking to the manager of the school’s lunch program the students loved and ate the healthier foods. In fact, according to the Department of Agriculture, 97% of schools across the country are implementing the school nutrition standards of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Perdue signed a proclamation to “restore local control of the guidelines on whole grains, sodium and milk” and went on to say that kids aren’t eating the food and it’s ending up in the trash. Cornell’s Food & Brand Lab research has proven how using behavioral economics, marketing and displays can trigger the selection of healthier foods and have students wanting to eat healthier foods. 

The final rule issued January 26, 2012 listed the timeline to reduce sodium. According to the FDA the average sodium intake for all Americans is 3,400 mg per day and the recommended intake is 2,300 mg. per day.

The rule, for example for those students aged 6-8, it listed the current sodium levels as offered in the school lunch program as 1,520 mg. The Target 1 deadline by July 1, 2014 was to lower the school lunch sodium to less than 1,360 mg., followed by a Target 2 to be implemented by July 1, 2017 of less than 1,035 mg and then a final target by July 1, 2022 of less than 710 mg. Perdue’s proclamation allows schools to be compliant at the Target 1 level of 1,360 mg. in that one meal while the USDA does more research to implement a long-term solution.

I love milk. My grandfather was a dairy farmer in Belleville, New Jersey and milk was a staple in our home. Perdue agrees with that premise, but is now allowing 1% flavored milk to be served instead of just low fat milk. One 8 oz. glass of 1% chocolate milk, for example contains 158 calories and 24.9 grams of sugars vs. 90 calories and 13 grams of naturally occurring sugars in the same size of non fat milk.

And then there is Perdue’s reasoning of why relaxing the whole grain requirement is important. “A perfect example is in the south, where the schools want to serve grits. But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it.  The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits.  That doesn’t make any sense.” I suppose that the research and facts that is posted on the USDA’s own page that shows that eating whole grains reduces the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some forms of cancers doesn’t matter.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) who is the ranking member on the House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Nutrition has been an outspoken advocate for healthy eating and is also angry, and said it best. He told the Los Angeles Times that this move is not about flexibility or being less burdensome, he says “It’s about making kids less healthy. Just because President Trump thinks fast food is a balanced meal doesn’t mean we should lower our standards for our kids.” Just because Perdue has 14 grandchildren doesn’t mean this is the right move, for them or any of our kids.


(Please note: my headline is not meant to offend anyone who is overweight just wanted to point out that Trump and Perdue are not themselves healthy role models based on their food behaviors.).