A U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal to limit the amount of starchy vegetables (including white potatoes, corn, green peas, and lima beans) in school lunches reveals how downright impossible it is to consider issues like health and nutrition without seeing them politicized almost beyond recognition.
A study published earlier this year found that the potato was a major contributor to obesity, and not just when fried—even when cooked in healthier ways, like boiling. The USDA wants to limit the amount of starchy vegetables in school lunches in order to encourage the inclusion of more green vegetables and other healthful (but more expensive) flora. “Kids are under-consuming vegetables considerably, and when they do eat vegetables, they’re all too often starchy vegetables, like potatoes,” says a spokeswoman for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which backs the policy.
Naturally, the opponents of the USDA proposal are potato people, like Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. Together with a co-sponsor, Democrat Mark Udall of Colorado, Collins has inserted language into the Senate version of next year’s agriculture spending bill specifically preventing the USDA from issuing its reduced-spud rule.
It’s no surprise that politicians from potato-producing states are defending the humble potato. But how can we take what they say at face value, knowing the industry they have to support? It’s just like John Kerry and Scott Brown uniting to save a Massachusetts industry—except that there’s more at stake in what we feed our children than in whether we buy things with dollar bills or dollar coins.
Amusingly, the paragraphs of the USA Today story on the subject are sandwiched around links to potato recipes, like “Warm potato salad with bacon-mustard dressing.” So if your kids aren’t getting enough potatoes at school, you can make up for it at home.
The silver lining? Congress is planning ahead, at least about certain matters. What a joy to hear that there’s something in the works so mundane as a 2012 agriculture spending bill—and that Democrats and Republicans are working hand in hand to politicize it and thwart that over-reaching nanny-state executive branch of ours!