Americans are accustomed to having the president’s wife choose some cultural policy or another to push while her husband is busy attending to the people’s work, but some first ladies blur the line between advocacy and lawmaking to an uncomfortable degree. Hillary Clinton was one of those, and Michelle Obama followed in her footsteps. Lady O wasn’t as overbearing as her Democratic predecessor, but she was quite a bit more successful. While Hillary was unable to bring her healthcare proposal to fruition in the 1990s, Michelle managed to turn her “healthy kids” initiative into real law.
In 2012, the Obama administration imposed “optional” rules on the nation’s public schools, requiring them to adhere to certain meal standards if they wanted the juicy carrot of additional federal grant money. Since most school districts are always looking for ways to fatten their budgets without groveling for more local tax money, it was no surprise that the majority of schools chose to adopt the new rules.
Those rules, in conjunction with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, required school cafeterias to go quite far in changing what students are served. Together, they imposed dietary guidelines that lowered sodium levels, reduced caloric content, restricted the kind of meats allowed, gutted cafeteria vending machines, and increased the amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the average school meal.
Like most of the ideas that emerge from the Democratic Party, the rules seemed perfectly sensible on the surface. After all, who was going to stand up and say, “Hey, we should just feed kids lollipops and Hot Pockets…”?
This is how Democrats still win elections despite decades of practical failure. Their proposals are superficially inarguable, and they appeal to anyone who doesn’t have the time or the brainpower to think about a political issue for more than a few seconds. Oh, healthier foods for kids. Cool, you got my vote, Mr. Obama, sir!
But as usual, the rules fell apart in practice. The grant money wasn’t enough to cover the enormously expensive burden of the healthier choices, parents began to resent the growing influence of Washington in their local schools, and students…well, students just started throwing away all of those healthy, tasteless meals. Some school districts were left with so much food waste that they started using it as compost.
This week, the Trump administration decided they’d seen enough. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that it was time to start unraveling Miss Michelle’s rules and return local meal decisions to the districts themselves.
“This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals,” Perdue said Monday. “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program.”
The idea that we would solve – or even make a dent in – America’s childhood obesity epidemic by serving kids cardboard for lunch was always ridiculous on its face. We doubt that even Michelle Obama thought it was possible. But when Democrats see an opportunity to expand Washington’s power, they take it.
Thankfully, the Trump administration is ready to start rolling that power back.
Pass the butter.