It looks like the war on potatoes is over. Well, perhaps the word war is a bit dramatic, so let’s just say the USDA’s expensive, nonsensical, continued effort to limit the use of potatoes in school cafeterias has come to an end.
As you may recall, we brought this up a year ago in a blog post “The USDA To Limit Potatoes For Kids?“. Obviously, being potato growers and Klamath Basin farmers, we had a dog in this fight. While our chipping potatoes haven’t ended up in school cafeterias as far as we know, they have been used for making dehydrated and frozen potato products. Add to the fact other Klamath Basin potato farmers grow spuds that end up in the fresh market and at a variety of processing plants, this action would have had a negative impact on our local economy. Despite the impact on potato farmers in the Klamath Basin and across the United States, the USDA pushed hard in the final stages of the great potato phase out.
What exactly did the USDA want? In an email we received from the National Potato Council (NPC), they indicated the USDA was pushing to limit potatoes, corn, green beans and lima beans to one cup a week. And no, not one cup of each a week – a total of one cup of any combination of those four vegetables. When you consider how healthy potatoes are, it didn’t seem to make sense, especially at a time when children are getting fewer vegetables in their diet. “Yeah, but they’re only frying potatoes in schools anyways,” you may be thinking. So, with the concern of children’s health and increasing obesity, it only made sense to ban potatoes since they were only being fried, right?
According to the NPC, nine out of every ten potatoes served in schools are not fried. They’re baked, boiled, mashed, put in soup – but not fried. Add to it the fact that only 11% of schools even have a fryer, even the french fries aren’t fried at most schools! So, if Mrs. Obama wanted to indulge in one of her favorite guilty pleasures, she only needed to visit her daughters’ school cafeteria where that serving of fries would only be 110 calories a serving. Much less guilt, but still a pleasure!
Furthermore, with so many schools feeling budget crunches, this mandate would have added more burden to cash-strapped schools. In the five years it would have taken to implement these changes, it would have cost schools up to $6.8 billion (yes, $6,800,000,000). At a time when teachers are already striking for better pay and school districts are trying to find ways to do more with less just meet the minimum educational requirements, this action from the Department of Ag seemed even more wrong-headed. It not only severely limited a healthy food option for our kids, it took more money from their education. Plus, many food services managers didn’t think it would do anything to improve the health of students or their diets.
But, that was in the past. Thanks to people speaking out and getting in touch with their representatives in Congress, this issue has more or less been put to rest. According to a recent email from the NPC, a bipartisan effort from Senators Susan Collins (R-DE) and Mark Udall (D-CO) received unanimous consent from the Senators. Spurred on by over 800 letters from citizens passed to their legislators through PotatosInSchools.com over a two week period, the message to the Department of Ag was loud and clear – keep potatoes in our schools!
Now, with the Senate voting unanimously on Collins and Udall’s amendment and the American public raising its voice in support of potatoes, hopefully the USDA will heed the will of the people and our elected officials and keep potatoes on school menus. And you can bet, if they don’t you’ll read about it here! To celebrate this momentous event, we suggest you have a nice baked potato for dinner. Remember to watch the amount of butter and cheese you put on it and don’t forget the veggies!
To everyone at the NPC and PotatoesInSchools.com, and to the folks who took the time to have their voice heard in support of keeping school lunches nutritious as well as Senators Collins and Udall, thank you very much. Good work and stay vigilant!