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Political junk food PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 19:04

Just as new research points to the nutrition hazards of processed food, some in Congress are trying to make kids eat more of it

It wasn’t enough to get pizza redefined as a vegetable to soften the impact of federal school lunch nutrition standards. Now the minions of the processed-food industry are angling to roll back the school meal standards altogether.

    The nutrition standards are anathema to Big Food because they require more fresh food to be served to students. This makes school meal programs less lucrative customers for the food-processing giants.


    The standards became law in 2010, but Big Food has been able to whittle away at them. A year later, Congress adopted a special rule proposed by the food industry that removed limits on pizza by declaring it a vegetable because it contained tomato sauce. Restrictions on the number of times per week french fries could be served were also eased.


    Now the House of Representatives is considering a bill that exempts schools from the standards if their food programs operated at a net loss for six months.


     The change is being pushed by agribusiness lobbyists directly and through the School Nutrition Association, which is largely funded by the processed food industry.


    This disabling of the nutrition standards is given a good chance of being successful, which takes skewed priorities to an amazing new level that ranks money—corporate profits and school meal program costs—higher than children’s health.

    School food rules were changed because lunches and breakfasts contained too much of the sodium, sugar and fat delivered by processed food and not enough fresh vegetables and fruit. It is not surprising that substituting fresh food for some of the processed food costs more; it takes more work to prepare meals from scratch.


    Most school districts have figured out how to manage the increased cost. Those that haven’t need to keep working at it. Going back to cheaper, less healthy food should not be an option.


    The latest school food controversy is being played out before a backdrop of upheaval in the science of nutrition. The campaign dating to the 1980s to get Americans to eat less meat and dairy fat is being discredited to the point where it is actually being blamed by some experts for making the U.S. one of the most obese and diabetes-prone countries on earth.


    A number of respected nutrition authorities now say Americans’ health declined after they started eating less fat because they substituted the carbohydrates of processed food, junk food and fast food.


    The debate about fat in the diet is not settled, but one thing that knowledgeable people on both sides of the argument agree on is that Americans would be healthier if they ate less processed food. New studies blame the refined carbohydrates in these foods for what is being called an epidemic of obesity and diabetes.


    And so with perfect timing Republicans in the House want to make it easier to put more of these foods into the meals served to children in school.


    First lady Michelle Obama urged parents to “fight until the bitter end to make sure that every kid in this country continues to have the best nutrition that they can have in school.”    


    Apparently that is what it will take. The House majority seems not to approve of federal rules of any kind, much less those that affect business profits. The new school-meal nutrition rules based on healthful eating precepts have been in place for four years, and during that time the vast majority of schools have adapted to them. Yet now, in response to lobbying pressure, many in Congress support repealing them and going back to giving children in some schools regular doses of deep-fried chicken nuggets.


    That’s political junk food that this country should not have to choke down.



 
The seductive vision of a new high school PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 16:00

As a school referendum approaches, upgrading the current heart-of-the-city Port Washington High School must be considered as a viable alternative to a gleaming new building on a remote campus

The edifice sprawls in the countryside adjacent to the city on a tract of flat land as big as a farm. It is surrounded by playing fields, a running track, football stadium, fieldhouse and mega parking lot. Within the building, every element—the classrooms, laboratories, offices, dining area, library, lounges and performing arts center—dazzle with space and light, and the array of computer systems that do everything from controlling the inside environment to managing education programs is cutting edge. At the entrance to the street leading through the vast campus to the building is an impressive sign mounted on brickwork and featuring an image of a friendly pirate. The sign says “Port Washington High School.”

    The foregoing is pure fantasy, of course. But it is safe to say that a similar vision of a new high school has crossed the minds of some Port Washington-Saukville School District administrators, teachers and School Board members. It can also be said that the wheels have started turning toward the possibility of making that vision real.

    The vision is seductive—caution is indicated.

    Questions about building a new high school as opposed to remodeling and expanding the current high school will be included in a survey of district residents authorized by the School Board Monday night. The survey will be preparatory to a referendum that will ask for voter approval of a number of school building improvements.

    Commissioning the survey by a company that specializes in school polling is a wise move. The results will guide the School Board in fashioning referendum questions that address building needs while having a reasonable chance of voter approval of the necessary spending.

    Some of the likely referendum questions are already obvious. Both Lincoln and Dunwiddie Elementary Schools are at capacity. The district has ample land at both schools and planning has started for additions. This needs to be done.

    There is nothing obvious, however, about the direction the district should go in dealing with high school needs.

    The current school is so old that great-grandparents of today’s students walked the hallways of the most ancient of the mishmash of buildings that make up the school. Overall, the design is antiquated and inefficient, the electrical, plumbing and air-handling infrastructure is obsolete and parking is inadequate.

    Those inadequacies add up to a strong argument for a new high school building on a new site, but there is more to consider.

    Cost may ultimately be the determining factor. Logic suggests fulfilling the vision of a new state-of-the art high school, which could include the acquisition and improvement of a large amount of land, would cost substantially more than remodeling and adding to the current school. Yet even aside from financial considerations, the latter option has some advantages. Some of those are intangible, but that makes them no less compelling.

    First, the Port Washington High School of today is located in the middle of the largest concentration of population in the school district, in the heart of Port Washington.

    Many students can walk to school. For others, it’s a short drive. The central location enhances the role of the school as a sort of community center; it’s easy for the public to get to athletic events and the popular performances staged in the school auditorium. The athletic field complex in the forested hollow along Sauk Creek behind the school is unique—no other school in the region has anything like it—and beautiful. As a setting for a Friday football game, it is unparalleled.


    To their credit, the district’s School Board and administrative leaders have maximized the advantages of the central location by using space at the nearby Thomas Jefferson Middle School for facilities used by high school students. The Aquatic Center at the middle school, recently upgraded, is perfectly adequate for high school swim teams. The soccer field on the middle school campus is a splendid home venue for the high school soccer team.

    We should mention too that in spite of the present high school’s apparent shortcomings, all indications are that education is being accomplished there at a high level.

    One item we won’t list as an advantage of the current high school site is tradition. It doesn’t matter that the school has been at its Webster Street location for almost a century. Nostalgia has no role here.

    What does matter is that remodeling and building an addition on vacant land at the high school site is thoroughly explored and objectively presented in the coming survey of district residents as a viable alternative to that seductive vision of the perfect school on an 80-acre campus.


 
Nation of doubters PDF Print E-mail
News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 04 June 2014 15:12

America cannot fulfill its proper role as a leader in the climate crisis if its people refuse to believe the science of atmospheric warming

Do you know robots can milk cows and cows can decide when they want to be milked?

    You do if you read the fascinating story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the LaCrosse dairy farm that uses a robotic milking system that relieves farmers of the tyranny of twice-daily milking. Cows enter a stall when they feel the need to be milked, and a robotic milker takes over.


    It is as though the cows milk themselves—with the help of computers, elaborate software and devices such as transponders and closed circuit TV cameras. All of this on farms where manual labor in its most basic and demanding form was the rule for centuries.


    Robotic milking is the product of science, of course, one of the numerous manifestations of progress evident in everything from smart phones to drugs that cure cancer.


    Whether Americans marvel at this progress or take it for granted, it is still shocking that a recent poll found that a large majority of us distrust the scientific findings that could be considered the most important to mankind—that of the evolution of life on earth and the cause and effect of global warming.


    The AP/GFK poll published in April found that most Americans don’t believe that life evolved over millions of years through natural selection or that the temperature of the earth is rising mostly because of manmade heat-trapping gases.

    One explanation is that influential constituencies dispute these findings on non-scientific grounds. Conflict between evolution and some religious beliefs has been going on since Darwin’s day, though mainstream Christian religions have been able to reconcile the science of evolution with Biblical versions of creation. Still, based on religious belief, many people claim the earth is a few thousand years old when science has measured its age at 4.5 billion years.

    The campaign against belief in manmade climate change has its roots in economics, rather than religion. If humans have to change their behavior to counter global warming by relying less on the fossil fuel that creates greenhouse gases, there will be an economic price to pay and the market will suffer. Better then to deny science and not be tempted to make hard choices that may have a financial impact.

    Almost all of the world’s scientists—97% by one assessment—agree that human activity is causing warming of the atmosphere that will have catastrophic consequences in the not distant future. Yet far less than half of Americans who are not scientists believe that.


    It is easy to understand the political and economic forces that debunk scientific evidence of global warming—they have a vested interest in resisting a reduction in the use of fossil fuel and they’re fighting to protect it. Not easy to understand is the refusal of a majority of Americans to accept scientific warnings of the dangers that await the world if warming of the atmosphere is not arrested.


    Evidence of miseries to come—drought, floods, frequent storms, famine, extinction of species, warfare over diminishing resources—mounts by the day. Yet those who dismiss it without a shred of science-based evidence to the contrary get public support when they deserve public contempt.


    The public’s refusal to believe the science of global warming, or to even take an interest in the phenomenon, has helped render America impotent in reacting to climate change. Congress has been shamefully absent on the issue. This week a faint hope that the world’s biggest producer of earth-warming gases might at least lift a finger to counter global warming appeared when President Barack Obama announced new Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce power plant emissions.


    It is a tiny step, but at least a step in the right direction. Sadly, though, if Americans don’t start believing science, and the political foes of climate science prevail, the measures will surely be scuttled before they can be effective.


    If cows can learn to be milked, humans ought to be able to learn to refrain from the behavior that is a causing a climate crisis.


 
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