Some of the Republicans in Congress want to turn your kid’s fresh fruit snack into a canned fruit snack. Why, you ask? So canned, dried, and frozen food makers can have a greater share of the educational food market in the renewed farm bill. And while this makes sense coming from the same people who think pizza is a vegetable, reducing fresh fruit in schools is totally wrong for America’s children. Here’s why.
For the past ten years, a tiny, federally-funded program has been distributing free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to schools with a high percentage of low-income children. Things have been going well; the USDA found that the program increased fresh food consumption by 15% per day, which amounts to a quarter cup per child. Low-income children often don’t have reliable access to fresh foods, so this program is vital to them and helps to normalize the idea of food that doesn’t come in a bag, container or box.
So why bring frozen and canned foods into this program, if the fresh stuff is working out so well? Big Food, of course. To be specific, lobbyists for non-fresh foods, who want to make the changes during farm bill talks. They argue that frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables are cheaper and more readily available year-round. Which is true, but doesn’t really speak to the health merits of fresh produce.
The House is currently debating legislation that will add these other kinds of fruits and vegetables to this plan. In a recent letter to the House Agriculture Committee, lobbyists said that allowing access to other kinds of foods will teach kids how to get the most nutrition “bang for their buck.”
Sandip Kaur, acting director of the nutrition services division at the Education Department in California, disagrees:
“We would prefer that the word ‘fresh’ remain the priority. It’s the ‘fresh’ that makes this program unique.”
I have to agree with Mr. Kaur. Sure, it’s great to give children access to healthy foods, but it really seems to me that a fresh apple is a healthier option than applesauce, any day. Matthew Marsom, a vice president at the Public Health Institute, says:
“We may see the floodgates open for perhaps less nutritious foods. There’s nothing [in the House bill] that would stop fruit cups with syrup or frozen Tater Tots with sodium. You just don’t get those problems with fresh.”
To all intents and purposed, this program has been working well for ten years; adding processed fruit and vegetables to it definitely seems to open the doors to more unhealthy products.
Hey, U.S. Government: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.