June 12, 2009

Vilsack is anti-Cheese!
The Des Moines Register reports that, at a recent public event in Iowa, USDA Chief Tom Vilsack quizzed the audience:
Vilsack stumped the crowd with a question as what is the largest-volume commodity that his department provides to schools. It's not potatoes or chicken nuggets. It's mozzarella cheese.

Kids need a more balanced diet, he said.

"Part of our challenge is to figure how to make the kids' choice be the salad rather than the pizza slice."
We can only hope the National Cheese Institute doesn't get wind of this. Not to read too much into this one quote, but I think it should hearten nutrition advocates somewhat. The main challenge of the upcoming re-authorization of the national school lunch program -- aside from boosting funding -- will be to attempt to reorient the program from a commodity dumping ground to one in which children's nutrition is paramount. And, frankly, there are a lot of folks in Congress who think pizza is as healthy as a school lunch need be. It's good that Vilsack understands that's not the case.

Interestingly, his comment can be parsed two ways. The "challenge" is both in Congress, i.e. how to get Big Ag and its supporters to agree to reform, as well as in the lunchroom, i.e. how to get kids to choose the salad over something else. The answer to the former will be lots of noise and good mobilization by nutrition advocates. And I would suggest the answer to the latter lies in Vilsack's new hobby -- school gardens. Put kids in the garden and they will eat what comes out of it.

Vilsack planting an edible garden at a DC school

We can only hope the Secretary doesn't enforce a suit-and-tie dress code in them.

Photo courtesy Good Food Garden (h/t Obamafoodorama)

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