First Lady Michelle Obama must be thrilled that President Obama signed the $4.5-billion Child Nutrition Act. Now all of our schoolchildren will eat healthy food and live an active life. Won’t this be a special Christmas at the White House?
Not that special. In reality, big government is already at the head of the lunch table in schools. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in nearly 95,000 public and nonprofit private schools and residential care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 26 million children each school day (getting kids to eat that way is another story).
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorizes funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and increases access to healthy food for low-income children. Among its provisions, the act:
- Gives the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including through vending machines, the “à la carte” lunch lines, and school stores and,
- Sets basic standards for school wellness policies, including goals for nutrition promotion and education and physical activity
I want to know who’s going to follow up on this utopian dream. Do you really think the lunch lady cares how little Johnny eats if he’s shoving his tray in her face demanding another slice of pizza? I don’t think so. She’s not going to tell kids no. She’s more concerned about how much more money she’s going to make with this added work. She wants her slice of the pie too.
In yesterday’s Newport Daily News, the front-page headline read: “School Workers Seek More Money, More Respect.” Apparently, the unionized lunch ladies aren’t happy. They went on strike this week, picketing with the other members of Unite Here, Local 217, outside of Thompson Middle School before the start of the Newport School Committee meeting Tuesday night.
Christine Ashley, a union steward at the school, complained that other schools pay more and that even her own school’s custodians make more than lunch ladies. She claims it’s because she’s a woman. “I think it is the traditional undervaluing of women’s work,” she said. “The custodians work incredibly hard and absolutely deserve every penny they receive, probably more. But so do we, and so do hardworking women everywhere. This gap is wrong and must shrink everywhere, especially in an enlightened community like Newport.”
So as President and First Lady Obama make their eggnog this holiday season, you can think about the atmosphere and culture their free lunch program is creating with your tax dollars. The lunch ladies in Newport and around the country feel left out. Throwing more money at a national health crisis does not solve the problem. The solution begins with the parents, not the president or some agency setting the menu.