Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Archive for January 2014

Conservative politicians need food security solutions, not rhetoric

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The following column ran on and runs here with complete permission.

Some conservative politicians get upset over the idea of government helping those that need help (as opposed to those who don’t need help). They get really upset with the idea of helping people get food, even children.

We have two stories, one American and one Canadian. While the Canadian politician did eventually apologize, these two stories are a microcosm of an attitude, mostly in the United States, that helping people who are struggling with getting food is one of the worst deeds for government to do.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) is trying to stand out in a field to replace Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in the Senate. Kingston’s views on school lunches will definitely make him stand out.

Rep. Kingston really has a problem with free school lunches, as he expressed to a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party.

“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?”

Think that is too severe? Kingston is one step ahead of uh, something.

“Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

Even by the standards of the U.S. South, Georgia’s children come up short. More than 25% of Georgia children live below the poverty line (already set pretty low), and the state has the 6th highest child poverty rate.

“Is it the government’s job — my job to feed my neighbor’s child? I don’t think so,” Canadian federal Industry Minister James Moore.

Moore said this in a radio interview about child poverty and hunger in British Columbia, Moore’s home province.

“Obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry … but is that always the government’s job? To be there to serve people their breakfast? Empowering families with more power and resources so they can feed their own children is I think a good thing.”

Moore hit on a conservative theme: giving more power to families to feed their own children. Or using private charity to help those in need. In theory, that sounds lovely. It doesn’t match the reality on the streets and in the neighborhoods.

To reiterate, Moore did apologize later for this remarks.

“Great work has been done to tackle poverty and the challenges associated with poverty. And while more work is needed, I know the cause of fighting poverty is not helped by comments like those I made last week. For that, I am sorry.”

Rep. Kingston is worried about poor children thinking the world is full of “free lunches.” MP Moore is worried about people thinking the government job is to feed children who need food.

Children, regardless of social structure and status, do not think about how much food costs. They don’t get that toys can be expensive, no matter how cool they look on TV.

If the children are poor, then they already know their world are not filled with metaphorical free lunches.

The government’s job isn’t to feed people. And food assistance doesn’t do that; food assistance allows people a boost so they can afford rent and food. You can treat it as a subsidy to farmers markets and grocery stores if that will make you feel better.

MP Moore’s suggestion of empowering families to feed their own children is a rather good suggestion, but neither the United States nor Canada is doing so.


USDA school lunch portion control rules gone for good

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lunch 1

The following column ran on and runs here with complete permission.

The whiny video over the portion size of school lunches did the trick. The USDA has permanently dropped the calorie limits from the rules.

True, the rules were temporarily relaxed after a video surfaced following a cafeteria strike and GOP politicians complained about the cuts in portion size, particularly among carbohydrates and protein.

It’s like the old joke, “The food is lousy and the portions are too small.”

“The USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said in a statement. “A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements.”

The changes, established in 2012, also dealt with limits on fat and sodium and increasing fruit and vegetable servings. Those changes didn’t inspire videos, so presumably they’ll stay.

Previous coverage:

School lunch reform happens quicker when conservatives whine

850 calories argument makes for good TV, but falls short on honesty

Mukwonago students strike because their lunches are ‘only’ 850 calories

The changes limited meals for high school students to 850 calories, a reasonable amount in a normal 2,000 calorie day. If the people complaining were those who don’t get enough to eat at home, that response would be completely reasonable against a “one-size-fits-all” attitude.

Then again, those kids aren’t running to make videos; kids with plenty of food have more energy to make videos.

The experts tell us that kids need as many as 10 times to like a new food. So the kids needed time to adjust all the way down to 850 calories. If you go back and look at how quickly these two videos made a wave, Nightline and The Daily Show had both weighed in by the end of September. And by December, the rules were temporarily relaxed.

We never did have the discussion about what the limits should be. 900 calories? 1000 calories? The easing of the rules was basically to say, “here are the rules, except when we want to break them.” To be fair, that was the standard before the USDA implemented the new rules.

A few kids complained in a school outside Milwaukee. A group of kids in Kansas with help from a teacher made a video. That was enough to take away changes that could have helped these children and millions of others. The Mukwonago, WI kids might have been sincere in expressing their concerns, but ultimately they were used as pawns to score cheap political points.

No school lunch program would ever replicate children going home to home-cooked nutritious meals at lunchtime. But in the reality universe that isn’t black and white TV, we have kids who are getting too much to eat side-by-side with kids who aren’t getting enough. And what both sides need are solutions.

photo capture: Kansas video