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Keep politics out of school lunch issue

August 18, 2012
Marshall Independent

To the editor:

I was concerned about Matt Coleman's letter regarding school lunches.

First, he treads heavily on the line between his role as a member of the Marshall Public Schools Board of Education and his right to an opinion as a citizen. He asks parents to email him at his official email address just before acknowledging that the opinions expressed are his and "may or may not reflect the opinions" of the full Board.

Is he expressing his own views? This is definitely his right as a concerned citizen. I would ask that he not use his board member email address as a means of contacting him in this case.

Many of us who work for state or local government entities know to exercise caution in using our work or official contact information on matters of personal opinion.

Coleman's letter unnecessarily politicizes the question of what should be on school lunch plates. In his first sentence he states that Michelle Obama is making children hungry by limiting what they can eat at school, attributing her interest in nutrition to purely political motives. Later he describes the new guidelines as a government effort "to seize more and more control of our daily lives." The National School Lunch Act was made permanent in 1946, following on programs that went back almost to World War I.

It's just disingenuous for a Board of Education member to call revised guidelines a federal power grab, when in fact nutritional guidelines for school lunches have been in place for almost 70 years through both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Finally, Coleman appears misinformed on the nutritional impact of the new guidelines. The guidelines on calories and proportions are based on research regarding children's nutritional needs and existing data about the long-term health impacts of poor dietary choices. Obesity is a significant problem in the United States among all age groups. Obesity is physically difficult for an individual, but it also adds to health care costs for everyone. If more appropriate portion sizes can help address this in young people,

I am all for the change.

I agree with Coleman that adults do have the right to choose what and how they eat. Schools, however, have an obligation to offer students lunches that are nutritious and balanced based on the best existing data and research.

Recently I was looking for kidney and garbanzo beans at Hy-Vee. I observed a healthy-looking boy of about 8 in the aisle who was asking his dad to buy green beans and corn because he wanted some with his meals that weekend. The father's response was that he would buy them in little cans because "I don't eat that crap." Unfortunately, the father weighed close to 300 pounds and looked to be shorter than 6 feet. Perhaps if that son continues to learn about the benefits of eating more vegetables at school, he will continue to make good nutritional choices despite his father's model.

Swimmers, cross-country runners and other high-school athletes in high-demand aerobic sports do need significantly more calories during their seasons than other students do. Supplying those well-chosen calories is the responsibility for those nutritional needs falls squarely on parents, not on the school district. I'm certain that if parents are unable to meet the extra food needs of their student-athletes, the coach or the school principal would find a way to supply them.

Coleman's suggestion that food (or is it just vegetables?) will go to waste and that kids will go home hungry just seems odd. It may be an admission that the kids he knows personally haven't learned to eat vegetables at home and that they would throw squash away, to use his example, choosing to go hungry rather than try it. It may also be an example of Coleman's trying out every possible argument against the guidelines without thinking about how the arguments sound together ("Kids won't eat those vegetables!" "Kids will be hungry!").

I was taught growing up to try a variety of foods. I was expected to eat what was put in front of me at my family's dinner table and in the school cafeteria.

We followed this own model with our kids and offered a variety of healthful foods and expected them to eat what they were served. I am happy to say that we raised three children who love vegetables and are not picky eaters. I'm sure most kids want to be healthy. Most of them probably hear similar messages from their own parents and would not willingly choose to waste food and go hungry.

Mr. Coleman, rather than politicize this issue, let's support Taher as they develop new ways to meet federal guidelines and continue to feed our children.

Please keep your own political views off the school lunch tray.

Will Thomas




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