Table of Contents:
- 13 More Thoughts on the School Food Fight
- 'Schools need more money'
Editor Eric Stoessel unloads his notebook, and mind, on the topic of school nutrition and the ongoing dispute over the regulations mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Just before the exhibition doors opened to thousands of school food workers, the School Nutrition Association held a brief press conference with CEO Patricia Montague, outgoing president Leah Schmidt and a group of school foodservice directors and other leaders on the floor of the Boston Convention Center.
The first question, and one of only two, from the media in attendance, came from a reporter from Politico, an outlet that in any other year would be completely out of place at a school foodservice show. But this isn’t any other year. SNA is embroiled in a very public and sometimes contentious debate with the USDA and First Lady Michelle Obama over increasing regulations mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Its legislative efforts to maintain the 50% whole grain rich and Target 1 sodium levels, drop the requirement to serve a fruit or vegetable with every meal and allow items sold on the meal line to also be sold a la carte have kept the debate going, but also led to increased and sometimes negative attention from mainstream media. (More on those four positions from SNA.)
The task now falls to Julia Bauscher, the 67th president of SNA and the director of school and community nutrition services for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville. Although Bauscher admits she’s good friends with her counterpart on the other side of the dispute, Dr. Janey Thornton—the deputy under secretary of the USDA and a former SNA president—she says the efforts Montague and Schmidt began this year will continue.
“We’re not changing course now,” Bauscher said after the press conference. “I represent the same members.”
Here are 13 thoughts on ANC14, SNA’s Annual National Conference, and the ongoing debate based on numerous interviews and casual conversations I’ve had there and in recent weeks…
• The awkwardness of ANC14 was perfectly summed up in one short stretch during the second general session of the event on Tuesday. After the two candidates for vice president were introduced, Wendy Weyer (Seattle Public Schools) and Jonathan Dickl (Knox County, TN), Thornton of the USDA took the stage and briefly addressed the thousands in attendance. She spoke of the positive changes, asking the audience for continued feedback and also asked members to concentrate on the positive. She said she hoped everyone could continue to work together and share best practices. Immediately following was an update from Weyer and SNA staffer Cathy Schuchart, on the group’s advocacy efforts to undo parts of what Thornton had just spoken so positively about. From one side to the other, with barely a segue.
• One director afterward told me he was upset with Thornton’s speech. “Haven’t SNA and its members been sharing with her our struggle (the past year)?” His impression, and that of others, he said, was she wanted to only hear how the new regs were working, but not about any of the challenges. He thought she painted a rosy picture of how implementation was going and didn’t want to hear the reality.
• Fair or not, I do believe this director and almost every other one I’ve corresponded with really want to make this work. If you read the 10 letters I’ve received in response to my June editorial, you’ll see all point out specific and significant problems they’re facing, but almost everyone is positive and sincere sounding in wanting to make the new regulations work and improving childhood nutrition.
• Another less than ideal scene for SNA was its press conference at the event on Monday morning, just before the trade show floor opened. Behind the long table seating Montague, Schmidt and the other leaders were 180,000 square feet of space filled with the latest in school food, equipment and other supplies, perhaps not the best backdrop for an association fighting a reputation of being backed by big industry. I did ask every vendor I talked to—including Schwan’s, often cited as one of the companies pushing SNA the hardest—where they stood on the new regs and if they had pressed SNA. The answer from every single one was some form of, “No, our reformulated products currently meet the latest requirements and we’re already working on more changes to meet the upcoming requirements.”