Students heading back to public school next week expecting a side of French fries may be surprised to learn the only thing deep-fried in the Texas Agriculture Commissioner’s school lunch plan are its federal ties.
Earlier this summer, Commissioner Sid Miller announced a five-point plan to target childhood obesity and give local control to school lunch administrators. Simultaneously, he unveiled the return of the deep fryer to campus kitchens after a reported 10 year absence.
The latter news nugget generated massive hype, but the five-point-plan holds the cafeteria cash register. Texas participates in the National School Lunch Program, which offers low-cost or free lunches for more than 3 million schoolchildren daily. Some districts provide meals and breakfast to all of their students at no charge.
In 2003, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) became the state’s administering agency in public schools and is funded by the USDA to oversee the program.
The five-point plan is all about the war on childhood obesity, a battle declared by First Lady Michelle Obama five years ago. Recently, CNN gave her mixed reviews on slaying the fat dragon.
The Lone Star version touts programs like Farm Fresh Friday/Farm-to-School Initiatives, AmeriCorps Vista Volunteers, Summer Food Service, community outreach, wellness programs, and Let’s Move!, Mrs. Obama’s signature fitness-for-all campaign.
Let’s Move! is alive and well in Texas. The Austin Independent School District (ISD) partook in Let’s Move’s! recent fifth anniversary challenge #GimmeFive. McAllen ISD was a 2014 Let’s Move trailblazer. In 2013, the TDA posted to the federal Let’s Move blog: In Texas, Technology Hits Cafeterias.” In 2012, Mrs. Obama celebrated the second anniversary of her Let’s Move! Campaign at Dallas ISD. The year before, a Houston ISD middle school invited Mrs. Obama and Beyoncé to lead the country in a “flash” workout choreographed to the singer’s “Move Your Body” and on and on.
Even the TDA’s Boost Meal Appeal links to the USDA’s What’s Cooking? website and Let’s Move! Recipes for Healthy Kids Cookbook for Homes.
AmericaCorps Vista Volunteers, another five-point plan project listed under community support is a U.S. Department of Education program that fights hunger. The TDA intends on hiring a Community Engagement Specialist to spearhead the effort, says the plan.
This year, President Obama pumped “unprecedented energy and resources to increasing participation into the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program,” according to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, another program listed in the five-point local plan.
Local control is a hot topic in education. It embodies the ever-increasing parental and taxpayer frustration to have that “democratic” say in these neighborhood public schools. “Local control” is also a concept that tugs at people’s heartstrings yet is it often overused or used in confusing ways that mislead individuals as to its meaning.
Breitbart Texas spoke to TDA spokeswoman Linda Ryan to better understand how Fed Led Ed programs housed under a five-point plan are “local.”
By email, she responded, “Schools participating in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs must still follow federal guidelines for foods sold during the school day. Federal guidelines regulate the nutritional content of foods and beverages sold.”
They must do so because they receive federal reimbursement for meals served, she added. Ryan told Breitbart Texas that the state agencies draw the money from the federal government to pay school meal claims. That is a lot of heart-healthy ham sandwiches.
Still, Breitbart Texas wondered how deep-fryers fit into this mix. Ryan pointed out that federal guidelines do not address the food preparation method.
The “repeal,” as she called the lifting of the fryer and soda bans, was intended to give more control back to local decision-makers, and for schools to have the option to decide whether to serve certain carbonated beverages and use deep fat fryers.
Based on what federal guidelines allowed, they were limited in what they could sell. Said Ryan, “…any campus participating in the federal programs and serving items such as French fries had to prepare those fries without the use of a deep fat fryer on site.”
Since the repeal, Central Texas districts like Pflugerville, Hays and Round Rock rejected those sodas in favor of juice and water-filled vending machines. Austin ISD said they always said no to deep-fat fryers and other districts around the state flat out refused to bring back fryers. Food and lifestyle choices are even part of the curriculum in Brownsboro. Follow the funding.
A Dallas Morning News food critic actually reviewed the politically correct grab-and-go “Smart Box” flatbread “sorta like pizza” vegetarian Dallas ISD lunch option.”
Its “ecological recycled water bottle packaging” got a nod. No fryers in the Big D, though, just hummus sandwiches, bistro salads and wraps with calorie counts, a list of ingredients and allergens.
Last year, Breitbart Texas reported on the hostile takeover of the lunchroom by the feds. Since Mrs. Obama took control of the soup spoon, there has been reocord waste. In the nation’s second largest school system, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), students trashed at least $100,000 worth of often untouched food a day. That translated into $18 million a year and was based on a conservative 10 percent. Hummus, anyone?
Dallas ISD boasts about its initiatives to encourage students to make healthier choices on their own – “Harvest of the Harvest of the Month, which highlights a Texas-grown produce item and gives students the chance to taste it; and “Lean & Green Day,” which is designed to encourage students to replace meat with plant-based protein options one day a week.”
Perhaps, here is the intended meaning of local control. Breitbart News reported that the Farm-to-School program goal is to get more “local food into public school.”
Ryan also pointed out, “TDA will work with local school officials and organizations to develop local policies, as well as assist local communities in building understanding and support of their policies.”
One of Miller’s impetuses behind the local control push was to tackle a “one-size-fits-all approach mandated from Austin,” he said; but these programs are federally generated. The five-point plan appear to be local management of federal programs.
Not every Texas high school student eats off of the National School Lunch menu. Many purchase lower-fat favorites and and even fries at mall-grade food courts built into high school mega-cafeterias that house vendors like Pizza Hut and Chick Fil-A. Some have coffee bars, some sell chocolate bars, and others have vending machines that sell soda pop, all prior to Miller’s repeal.
How many schools in the state offer Pizza Hut vs “sorta pizza” is unknown. Breitbart Texas did not hear back from the TDA office before press time.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.