SNA members need help with homework - The Packer

SNA members need help with homework

07/02/2014 04:54:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstLobbyists and members of the School Nutrition Association need some special tutoring sessions on building successful school meals with fresh produce.

Instead of buckling down and tackling updated school meal standards like eighth graders sweating over Algebra equations, some members of the association and its leadership are whining and making excuses.

“It’s too hard,” they seem to say. “Can we turn in the assignment next year — or never?”

The costs associated with the serving requirement of fruits and vegetables has been astronomical, they protest, forcing kids to take fruits and vegetables that wind up in the dumpster.

“We’re not making healthy students, we’re making healthy trash cans,” one SNA member said in a late May teleconference.

The SNA’s flip-flop on school nutrition standards is getting attention, with The New York Times headlining July 1 coverage of the SNA with the headline “Nutrition Group Lobbies Against Healthier School Meals It Sought, Citing Cost”.

The SNA supported updated nutrition standards when the Obama Administration in 2012 announced changes to require more fruits and vegetables and less sugar and salt in government-subsidized school meals. Now the group has done a 180 and is leading the charge to opt out, ironically, “of the very rules it helped to create,” The New York Times story reports.

The piece even quoted a former Agriculture Department official who said that SNA has “sold their souls to the devil,” the quintessential slapdown sum-up quote.

As if to validate that judgment, nineteen former presidents of the School Nutrition Association are on record as being opposed to waivers the SNA now wants.

Who is the devil and his legions? The usual suspects, I suppose — mostly big money food companies who cover much of the School Nutrition Association’s budget and their lobbyists who claim pizza sauce is a vegetable — and, who knows, perhaps the cheese curd coalition.

The Packer’s coverage of this issue “School lunch battle expected to be long haul”  reveals the battle over nutrition standards for school lunches is expected to last through 2015.

With only about 20 legislative working days left in the current fiscal year, continuing resolutions that continue current law will likely be necessary to fund the USDA and other agencies. That may mean no big changes in the school meal standards this year, and more debate in 2015.

United Fresh officials are urging members to speak out against Republican-sponsored legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow waivers for school districts that say serving more fruits and vegetables is too costly.

After all, a recent update from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows 90% of school districts are already in compliance with the new standards.

Robert Guenther of United Fresh said United Fresh will take that message to the SNA convention this summer where the produce association will have a pavilion for the first time. He said United Fresh plans sessions on how to write produce “requests for proposals” as well as sponsoring an ask-the-experts area where school foodservice officials can get tips on how to maximize their produce budgets.

The School Nutrition Association isn’t Satan, obviously, but more like a math-challenged eighth grader who wants to ditch his assignment and play FIFA Soccer on PlayStation.

United Fresh is doing the right thing to reach out to SNA members, like a helpful older sibling decoding an Algebra equation for a younger brother. Fresh produce marketers can help schools deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to students that winds up in their stomachs, not in trash cans.

Give these school foodservice teams more salad bars, more advice on commodity choices, sourcing help and all the cheat sheets the industry can find to help SNA members pass this exam with the flying colors in the fruit and vegetable rainbow.



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