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hands off my brown bag
when politics and your kids' lunch cross paths
by jeffrey d. walker

If you don't listen to extremely right-wing news sources (and I'm not talking Fox News here, I'm talking Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck), then you probably missed the story about a Turkey and Cheese sandwich that was rejected by a school food inspector, who ordered instead that the four-year old eat school cafeteria chicken nuggets. Then, it allegedly happened again.

Of course, such stories would come out of my home state of North Carolina, where I was raised to be a good Republican boy, and where few people approve of big government sticking their nose in their business... the business in this case, apparently, being their kids' lunch bags.

It was over a decade ago that I abandoned my red birth state for the true blue state of New York, settling eventually in what may be the most liberal place on the east coast, Ithaca, New York. This, a law school education, and other circumstances of my life, now permit me to fairly consider both sides of the political coin when I'm confronted with an issue. I wasn't given the title of "chief white house correspondent" at IM for nothing, you know.

But there hasn't been a liberal take on this Turkey and Cheese sandwich story; not on NPR, not on PBS, not anywhere that I've looked. I could have missed it if there was one, but I'm pretty sure there wasn't. So, I guess it's up to me, then. And so...

The right-wingers who have gone after this story have all twisted the facts into a veiled shot at President Obama, and more specifically, Michelle Obama's efforts to reduce childhood obesity by changing the requirements for public school lunches.

The funny thing about that is, no critic has actually said that these new standards are bad. None of them are arguing that kids should be allowed to eat whatever they want, and get as fat as they want. Instead, those who cite this story simply point out that, something seems inherently wrong with chicken nuggets being substituted for what seems like a perfectly good bag lunch, and draw from that the conclusion that this President, his wife, and this policy are all "bad for America."


Let's start out by my reminding everyone that I am fairly intolerant of obesity. This dates back to… forever, really, but I first went on record in 2002 in my column, "Fat Bastards". And that was written shortly after I'd voted for George W. Bush, something I'd do again a couple of years later. In other words, even when I was still full-blown right-wing, I was against obesity.

The rest of America had seemingly caught up with me since that time: The Biggest Loser, a television about overweight contestants attempting to lose weight, debuted in 2004; in 2005, Celebrity Fit Club followed, and there have been others. Sure, shows about fitness and weight loss existed previously, such as the Richard Simmons show. But Richard, and his peers, encouraged fitness in a happy, positive manner. Fitness shows that pull ratings these days tend to favor a more aggressive, in-your-face style, that basically employes demoralizing techniques to get people to lose weight.

It seemed to me that everyone was on the same page here -- obesity is bad, and we need to control it. So, why then are people (right wingers, that is) attacking White House policies that are aimed to reduce childhood obesity and trying to get kids to eat more vegetables?

There are two main reasons, as I can see it: the first and most obvious being, that because in today's insanely toxic political climate, Republicans will attack pretty much every move this White House makes, regardless of it's reasonableness. I'm not even going to begin to go through the many examples of this, because that would more than triple the length of this article, and take me way off track; however, if you (the reader) can't admit to at least one example of this (most obvious example of course, since you're reading this, being the rules intended to curb childhood obesity), then you should move to a blue state for a year or ten, because you are bat-shit delusional. And you're probably racist on top of that, too. You dick.

The second reason right-wingers are attacking the policy? Money. Part of the new rules reduce the amount of potatoes that a school could serve in their lunches. Why? Well, if you were to believe, say, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health, starchy carbohydrates (i.e., potatoes) are in large part responsible for our not only our nation's obesity issues, but also increase risks of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. G.W. Bush went to Harvard, you know.

Of course, the "National Potato Council" takes umbrage. School serve a LOT of French Fries, and if schools are forced by legislation to serve fewer potatoes, then potato people lose money.

And if potato people lose money, well... they don't want that to happen. So they do what any self respecting group would do; take millions of dollars and lobby politicians to stop this plan! Kids and their weight be damned; the only green they care about isn't healthy leafy vegetables for your kids, it's the kind of green with $$ signs on them. And so, they lobby, and buy politicians to fight this plan at all costs. I wouldn't be surprised if they also bought off a lunch inspector in North Carolina, not that I have any proof of that.

The bottom line: efforts to help our nations kids be healthier should in all cases be encouraged. If you don't like a part of the policy, then you should use constructive criticism to find a way to improve it. If you are, alternatively, taking or encouraging steps to simply block such efforts, you're either a racist dick, or a money loving whore.


A practicing attorney and semi-professional musician, Walker writes for his own amusement, for the sake of opinion, to garner a couple of laughs, and to perhaps provoke a question or two, but otherwise, he doesn't think it'll amount to much.

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tracey kelley
2.24.12 @ 7:56a

I think Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" program did a great job highlighting the absurdity of school lunches, the governmental meltdown over what determines a "vegetable", and the major bureaucracy involved in changing things for the better.

The biggest offenders of all? Parents. Because few want to rally for a healthier program.

Potatoes, with their high glycemic rate and their carb energy, aren't bad. A kid eating a small baked potato with a smidge of butter, salt and pepper won't get fat eating one once or twice a week. A potato, even without the skin, is a nutrient-packed vegetable. French fries, one the other hand, God love 'em, are not an acceptable substitute for a vegetable, yet the USDA classifies them as such in the school lunch program. (con't)

tracey kelley
2.24.12 @ 8:07a

Because our society has devalued real food in favor of cheap, processed products that can be thawed and microwaved. The people, not the politicians, did this. But you're right; the partisanship is preventing actual food work from being done.

Not all people who register as obese or even overweight are lazy, unmotivated, overeaters. There are many reasons for these conditions, including genetics, metabolism, medication, and hormonal imbalance, to name a few. This recent article in the NYT outlines a shocking scientific study of how some bodies react to weight loss. So it's hard work for most people, but even a balanced diet and a walk each day would help.

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