Let us dispel the belief that we have a “do-nothing congress.”
Our Senate recently stood shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with the lowly white spud, rebuffing an effort by anti-potato Obama to limit its consumption by schoolchildren. Before you get the inaccurate image of the president and his cabinet slapping french fries from the hands of kindergarteners, you need to know some details.
The administration had proposed limiting the amount of potatoes and other starchy vegetables that can be served in school lunches to one cup per student per week. Beyond that, they wanted to ban them from school breakfasts entirely.
Imagining the horror of a world where breakfasts are without the crunchy, fatty texture of hash browns; and quicker than a fast food chain can deep fry a basket of sliced spuds, the Senate blocked the proposal by adopting an amendment to the 2012 spending bill for the Agriculture Department. The amendment, approved by unanimous consent I might add, prohibited the USDA from establishing “any maximum limits on the serving of vegetables in school meal programs.” Paraphrasing the quotation usually attributed to Voltaire, “I disagree with your choice of Russets but I shall defend to the death your right to eat them.”
In this age of hyper-partisan non-stop bickering and political tantrum throwing, it’s comforting to know that members of our legislature could reach across the aisle for the common good. (It would be nice if it benefited our economy but one must take the victories he gets. Sigh…) Senators Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, set aside partisan differences and defended the starchy spud — coincidentally grown in great quantities in their states — saying that the proposal had no basis in nutrition science. (Not that that has always made a difference in how laws have been crafted previously.)
Said Ms. Collins, “The proposed rule would prevent schools from serving an ear of fresh corn one day and a baked potato another day of the same week, an utterly absurd result.”
Why was the potato singled out, you might ask?
Well, that’s because, unlike celery or green beans, potatoes are defined by the Agriculture Department, as “starchy vegetables.” In addition to white potatoes, this category includes the aforementioned corn, as well as green peas and lima beans. (I thought edamame fell within this classification but it turns out it’s a legume. Besides, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of excitement for a dish of green soybeans boiled or steamed in their pods.) The department’s intent in limiting consumption of starchy vegetables was to “encourage students to try new vegetables…” Personally, I believe the bill targeted the potato because I cannot imagine elementary school children queuing up for an extra helping of lima beans. However, I could be wrong; after all, I enjoy edamame.
Ms. Collins, who started as a small fry amid the potato fields of Maine, (insert rim shot here…) pointed out: “Potatoes have more potassium than bananas. They are cholesterol-free and low in fat and sodium and can be served in countless healthy ways.”
Mr. Udall said, “Anything can be fried or drowned in any number of fats…”
The problem, he rightly pointed out, is not with the potato, but with how it is sometimes prepared. This is true, no doubt. And I am in firm agreement with the goal of improving the nutritional content of our youth. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have been known to accept payment in the form of french fries. Having said that, it’s unlikely you’ll find the next junk food crazes to be either broccoli chips, or mashed celery slathered in sour cream and butter.