Saturday, June 07, 2014

'Yuck! 'Not Even a Gallon of Green Chile Can Fix These Whole-Grain Flour Tortillas'

A big sticking-point appears to be the fact that all the grains offered in schools must be whole grain from July. Schools are having trouble finding whole-grain tortilla, biscuits and pasta. In New Mexico, in particular, there is cultural resistance to whole-wheat tortillas....
The title of this post is misleading.  The topic is not flour tortillas. Or green chile. I thought I would start this piece with a mention of those two New Mexico food staples, since whole-grain flour tortillas were mentioned in a recent article in the London-based business publication The Economist. This post is more about nutrition, school meals, and the behind-the-scenes complications that have emerged.

The article in The Economist starts by pointing to a successful anti-hunger and nutrition effort: The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which  higher nutritional standards for meals, based on recommendations from scientists and School Nutrition Association (SNA).  The act required healthier meals in exchange for an increase in federal spending on school lunches.

 "On the face of things, school meals are one of a few success stories in modern American policymaking," said article. "Five years ago it was clear that children, like grownups, needed to eat less sugar, salt and fat in their diets. Given that many children consume half of their daily calories at school, these meals seemed a good place to start."

Fruits and Vegetables Wasted?
Some complications have arisen, and this is what the article addresses. "Now, however, the SNA has changed its tune. It says the rules are expensive and difficult to implement, and it wants temporary waivers to the rules for any school-meals program that has been losing money for six months," said the article. "The SNA adds that school cafeterias are unprepared to meet a new set of standards that is due to take effect this July."

According to the SNA, a big sticking-point appears to be the fact that all the grains offered in schools must be whole grain.."Schools are having trouble finding whole-grain tortilla, biscuits and pasta. In New Mexico, in particular, there is cultural resistance to whole-wheat tortillas," said the article, entitled "Food Fight."

That's only part of the SNA's request. The school nutritionists also want to eliminate the requirement that school meals include a fruit or vegetable.  The reasoning: that part of the meal will usually end up in the garbage bin.

The SNA also would like to keep the U.S. Department of Agriculture  from imposing further restrictions on the sodium content of meals.

So what happens next?

First, the SNA wants the  USDA to grant temporary waivers.  "My guess is that this could be the first tomato being lobbed in a bigger food fight to come during the 2015 reauthorization of child-nutrition programs," said the author of  The Economist article. "The harmless-sounding request to issue temporary waivers actually has enormous potential for abuse." Rather than work with  the USDA to help to find a long-term solution to the problem, the SNA is taking another political route.

"Clearly there are some real problems. In May the USDA acknowledged as much when it announced that schools that can demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain-rich pastas may serve traditional products for two more years," said The Economist.  But rather than pursue more relief from the USDA, the SNA has been aggressively seeking these waivers in Congress."

Anti-Hunger & Nutrition Communities Speak Up
The anti-hunger and nutrition communities (including Bread for the World, MAZON, Children's Defense Fund, the New Mexico Public Health Association and many others) have also weighed in against this effort. A couple hundred national and state organizations signed a letter, dated May 19, opposing efforts to gut nutrition guidelines.

We, the undersigned organizations, strongly oppose efforts to use the appropriations process to change or weaken federal child nutrition programs, including potential efforts to require the inclusion of white potatoes in the WIC Program, to alter or delay implementation of meal standards in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, or to weaken or delay rules to limit sugary beverages and unhealthy snack foods in our nation’s schools. For decades, Congress has wisely ensured that federal child nutrition programs have been guided by science. Science - based decisions have served our children and our nation well. Accordingly, we strongly urge you to oppose efforts to intervene in science - based rules regarding the federal child nutrit ion programs.  See full list of signators

A Final Comment About Tortillas
I started the post with a reference to tortillas--and I'm ending with tortillas. Here is part of  a response from a reader in the comment section of the online article in The Economist.
So why not serve corn tortillas? They're the truly "traditional" tortillas, after all. Wheat was introduced to the Americas by Europeans. So the idea that wheat tortillas are somehow "authentic" is nonsense. The process for grinding wheat to make white flour is itself a very modern development.

1 comment:

Angela Haney said...

SNA does not want to eliminate fruits and vegetables from school meals. We want the children to be able to refuse a food item they are not going to eat. The rules state that each child has to have at least 3/4-1 Cup of fruit or vegetable on their tray even if the child has no intention of eating it. It is frightening to see how much food is going into the trash cans. We just want to go back to the old regulations where fruits and vegetables had to be offered but only those children who wanted to eat them had to take them. In a world where so many people are starving it makes me sad that much food is in the trash every single school day.