The drive to force schoolchildren to eat healthier meals continues unabated, despite overwhelming evidence that serving adult-oriented meals increases kids’ use of junk food. In today’s San Francisco Chronicle one local school district food advocate (yes, they exist) thinks that new federal rules mandating increased use of red, yellow and green vegetables and protein-rich legumes will result in a generation of kids yearning for spinach.
“Parents can now imagine their children coming home from school with a newfound love for spinach, sweet potatoes and whole-wheat spaghetti,” said Dawn Undurraga, staff nutritionist with Environmental Working Group, which works on public health issues, in a statement. “That’s a positive development that will have a lasting impact as they grow into strong, fit young adults.”
Would that it were so. As a parent myself, I can vouch for the flights of fancy we sometimes entertain when junior’s decision-making process does not mirror our own. On occasion I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe if I just eliminate sugar from my son’s diet he won’t want it anymore. Of course, his taste buds and Grandma intercede and the game is up. He knows that there’s a much better tasting alternative to the wheat-filled slag Dad is serving. It is one thing for a parent to be paternalistic, but it’s quite another when public sector food bureaucrats (or “activists”) think they can socially engineer a kid to crave certain food.
Unfortunately for the Berkeley-based Ms. Undurraga, my column on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s failed food experiment points in the opposite direction. According to reporting from the Los Angeles Times students confronted with mass produced health food are reacting in a way all too familiar:
For many students, L.A. Unified’s trailblazing introduction of healthful school lunches has been a flop. Earlier this year, the district got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium. Instead, district chefs concocted such healthful alternatives as vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.
There’s just one problem: Many of the meals are being rejected en masse. Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students. Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they’re suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving. (Emphasis mine)
What? A black market for comfort food seething right below the pad Thai noodles and quinoa salads?! Obviously, the next step is to confiscate the hamburgers and punish those responsible. Perhaps Michelle Obama could be called in to force-feed yummy bowls of spinach until the little ones develop that “newfound love” of greens everyone is so eager to foist upon them.