- “[In June,] a bitter fight erupted in Washington, D.C., when the School Nutrition Association (SNA) — representing the nation’s 55,000 school food professionals — decided to oppose nutrition improvements to federally subsidized school meals, claiming that districts face insurmountable challenges from too many changes happening too quickly.”
- “At the trade group’s annual meeting last month in Boston, I searched for clues. Why did the SNA reverse its earlier position supporting healthier school meals? My first inclination was to suspect influence from the SNA’s food industry sponsors; after all, the organization’s largest donors include Domino’s, PepsiCo and General Mills. But walking through the expo hall, it was clear that the food industry is having no problem meeting the new nutrition rules (a sign of how weak they are).”
- “Implementing healthier school meals takes time and effort: It requires the cooperation of everyone — from students to distributors to principals. But it’s certainly quite feasible. Kiera Butler recently reported for Mother Jones how the director of food service for Cincinnati’s public schools, Jessica Shelly, steered her program toward a $2.7 million profit. Shelly got her produce distributor to create affordable salad bars so that schoolchildren could choose which vegetables they liked.”
- “So why is the SNA digging in its heels — and picking a fight with the first lady, to boot? Especially when its vendors are already in full compliance and so many of its own members are having such success? The answer may lie — at least partially — in the SNA’s complicated connections with the food industry. Let’s take a closer look at one of SNA’s patrons (and top donors): Schwan.”
- The Minnesota-based company’s pizza products can be found in 75 percent of the nation’s 96,000 K-12 schools. According to the Star Tribune, the company says it has not taken a position on the controversy. But Schwan has a seat on the School Nutrition Foundation’s board (as does PepsiCo).”
- “Remember when Congress declared pizza a vegetable? Schwan was behind that too. Could all this explain the chumminess I witnessed between Schwan and the SNA at the Boston meeting? One of the panelists at the SNA’s policy session was Craig Burkhardt, a lawyer with the group’s new lobbying firm, Barnes and Thornburg (whose clients include the National Rifle Association). Afterward, I noticed that the rep from Schwan was the first to greet Burkhardt, congratulating him on a great job; they obviously knew each other.”
- “So is Schwan behind the SNA flip-flop? Of course, we can’t know for sure. But if one company really does have that much power over an organization whose mission is to “ensure all children have access to healthful school meals,” those battling for healthier school food have a long fight ahead.”
This has many parallels to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ close ties with Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s, and General Mills, to name a few companies.
It’s likely why the Academy takes a very soft stance when it comes to the issue of highly processed, minimally nutritious foods that pass themselves off as healthful.