The state is pulling sodas from school stores and regulating bake sales. But will the USDA do anything about the actual cafeterias?
Yesterday the Massachusetts Public Health Council voted to approve what might be the toughest and most comprehensive statewide school-food guidelines in the country—a step that I hope will influence states around the country. (Proud spouse alert: I'm married to the state health commissioner, John Auerbach. But in fact the long and hard work that went into the rules is that of the Department of Public Health's medical director, Dr. Lauren Smith.)
The rules are close to what many cities—in Massachusetts alone, Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville—have already enacted, and cities and counties across the country have passed their own rules; they conform to reports from the Institute of Medicine, Department of Health and Human Services, and numerous other groups. They don't apply to the main cafeteria lines: Those are the province of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which sets the standards for actual school lunch, and which this year proposed rules to increase the fruit-and-vegetable quotient and reduce sodium and saturated fat.
The USDA will always be far slower to act, though, and so communities work on the food around the cafeteria, as Massachusetts has: in vending machines, "a la carte" cafeteria lines that are frequently run by huge fast-food companies, snack shops, the infamous bake sales, and other fundraisers, which inevitably draw cries from the directors of athletics, dramatics, and other underfunded or defunded extracurricular programs.