On a typical Thursday, Cole Coffey, a sixth-grader at Schoo Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska, would face a school lunch menu that reads a little like a Weight-Watchers recipe guide:
WHOLE GRAIN CHICKEN NUGGETS WITH WHOLE WHEAT GARLIC BREAD
WHOLE GRAIN LASAGNA WITH WHOLE WHEAT GARLIC BREAD
SWEET & SOUR MEATBALLS ON WHOLE GRAIN BROWN RICE
Purists who claim it's a cultural crime to use a fibrous, nutritious substitute for the traditional Italian bruschetta may be even more dismayed by the day's vegetarian offering: "Veggie Wrap on Whole Grain Tortilla."
And, in this, one of the top meat-producing states in the country, there's also a fully stocked raw vegetable bar and a daily spinach salad.
The legumes and whole grains have arrived partly as a result of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The law, supported by Michelle Obama and her "Let's Move" initiative, made aggressive changes to the school lunch program, requiring schools to switch all of their white grains to whole, to slash salt content, and to offer twice as many fruits and vegetables.
As the New York Times Magazine reported last weekend, the resulting criticism has whirred with the vigor of a thousand Vitamixes:
Republicans now attack the new rules as a nanny-state intrusion by the finger-wagging first lady. Food companies, arguing that the new standards are too severe, have spent millions of dollars lobbying to slow or change them. Some students have voted with their forks, refusing to eat meals they say taste terrible.
What has ensued is a food fight of Seussian tenor. Food manufacturing companies complain that the law's tomato paste measurements are unfair. An attempt by an Austin school district to move toward "Meatless Mondays" prompted an angry screed by the former Texas agriculture commissioner, Todd Staples. (In the Lone Star state, "we have no room for activists who seek to mandate their lifestyles on others," he wrote). One student's photo of two slices of lunch meat, raw cauliflower, and crackers on a sad styrofoam tray recently whipped up a back-in-my-day furor in Oklahoma.