And here's my cartoon for the week:
It's no secret that I care a lot about nutrition, especially when it comes to children who only know what parents and adults tell them is nutritious. So this jerk move by Congress that shot down Obama's healthier school lunch plan really angered me.
The only thing I'd heard about this was that "pizza is a vegetable" meme, so I did a bit of research for my cartoon and this is what happened: the Obama administration proposed legislation that would have restricted potatoes (that is, french fries) to 1 cup per child per week. It also would have made 1/2 cup of tomato paste count as a serving of vegetables (currently 1/8 cup of tomato paste is counted as nutritionally equivalent to 1/2 cup of other vegetables under the assumption that when you add water it makes more vegetable). Some other limitations were placed on sodium content of foods with an emphasis on increasing whole grains. Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Not to Congress. The projected $0.14 increase in cost of each lunch was too high a price to pay for more nutrition. Lobbyists from food corporations argued that they didn't want to be forced to make compromise the taste of their lunch items in order to fit new nutrition standards, so pizza and french fries are staying on the menu in the same horrifying quantities as before.
Really, Congress? Fourteen cents per kid is too much to pay for the next generation of Americans? Paying more for better nutrition now will probably help off-set the high and rising price of obesity-related medical costs---currently about ten percent of all medical spending, and projected as twenty percent in five years. That is horrible. Analysts expect Americans to only get fatter with time, and they are probably right. Food marketing is the priority to our government, not food education, and Congress proved that by rejecting nutrition in favor of profits.
Supporters of Congress' decision to reject the overhaul argue that the nutrition of school lunch doesn't matter because children can get all the fruits, vegetables, and whole grains they need eating meals at home. Who are they kidding? Children who eat school lunch are largely from middle and lower class families whose parents either don't have the time to prepare a lunch or can't afford it. These same parents work all day and come home exhausted, putting a cheap and convenient fast food meal on the table that is high in sodium and saturated fat and low in fiber. Or, if the kids are lucky, Mom or Dad pops a frozen food meal in the oven that's just as high in preservatives and vitamin-depleted vegetables as any fast food restaurant. The parents of obese children are generally obese themselves, because they either don't know proper nutrition or don't follow it, and they pass these same patterns on to their children. It breaks my heart to see kids who are fat because they haven't been taught what to eat. Parents expect the school system to teach nutrition, and the government expects parents to take care of it so nothing gets done. I would say lack of education about nutrition is the number one cause of obesity in this country. People are and always will be free to make their own food choices, but how will they know what to choose if all they can rely on is tv commercials and cereal boxes?
School lunch is just one of the many, many contributors to the childhood obesity epidemic in this country (and others). I don't use the word epidemic lightly. Obesity contributes to heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancers---why aren't we doing more to educate our children about this? I would argue that obesity is the #1 preventable ailment we've ever heard of, but little to nothing is being done to save our children from it. I don't often complain that our government cares more about money than it does about people, but it really aggravates me that our president was trying to do something positive for our children and the government that is supposed to represent us shot him down. I would like to shout that last sentence. Why doesn't our government care as much about our children as we do? Actions speak louder than words: Congress, you just told us that money is more important to you than your voters are. (But then, I guess I shouldn't be surprised by that.)