It was supposed to be, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “a great day for kids throughout our country.” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the signing of the “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act” on December 13, 2010 — a key part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” crusade — “a significant step forward in our effort to help America’s children thrive and grow the be healthy adults.”
For kids in the Alexandria City Public Schools, it was the beginning of the end of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
When the government-run schools in Alexandria opened last week, their cafeterias lacked the popular lunch staple. Students could bring their own PB&Js, but they could not buy them. And, for those kids who rely on government-supplied meals, they could only dream of choosing between crunchy and creamy and strawberry preserves or grape jelly. Now, their choices are likely between fish nuggets and chef salads.
Under the terms of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, “USDA [has] the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the ‘a la carte’ lunch lines and school stores.” The Act also “provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches.”
Therein lies the stick that mandates the carrot.
ACPS nutritional director Becky Domokos-Bays told the Alexandria Times that city-run schools in Alexandria no longer offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because may run afoul of “new federal regulations capping student grain intake.” The “big decision” was not necessarily made for health reasons as much as to secure continued federal aid for school lunches.
Don’t forget that Project 21 member Robin Martin warned about this federal encroachment back in February of 2010 — approximately ten months before the signing of the Act — when she said she feared that new rules from Washington might eventually (and, in fact, already has) infringing upon lunches prepared by parents.
Then again, maybe federal nutrition standards headed off the need for future racial sensitivity training in the ACPS. According to a government-run school principal in Portland, Oregon, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a jingoistic symbol of “white privilege.” But that’s a whole different story.