Sid Miller says it’s “not about french fries; it’s about freedom.”
Photo by Christian Schnettelker and www.manoftaste.de via Flickr
Everyone knows that fried food is delicious—and no place knows that better than Texas, the nation’s leader in turkey-frying disasters, and the home of deep-fried sweet tea. But just because something tastes really (really, really) good, does that mean kids should be eating it every day? For years, doctors, nutritionists, and informed policymakers have answered that question with a resounding “no,” pointing to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and malnutrition. And national policies regarding public school lunches have slowly evolved to address the professional consensus on these issues. But Sid Miller, Texas Agriculture Commissioner, has stepped up to the pulpit to take a stand against the oppression of healthy lunches, government intervention, and the meddling, anti-free-market machinations of the arugula lobby. The Texas Tribune reports that Miller seeks to overturn a statewide, 10-year ban on deep fryers and soda in schools, claiming that the issue is “not about french fries; it’s about freedom.”
Critics of Miller’s mission don’t see it as a matter of freedom. Instead, they consider it a public health concern that is leading to rising healthcare costs and a nation of unhealthy children. Per the Tribune:
In 2013, 16 percent of high school students in Texas were obese, up from 14 percent in 2005. Only Arkansas, Kentucky and Alabama reported higher rates. Nationwide, child obesity rates have jumped from 7 percent in 1980 to 18 percent in 2012.
And a recent op-ed on Miller’s plans in the Houston Chronicle notes:
Miller's proposed unhealthy changes could contribute to student obesity. Whatever a cafeteria chef is cooking will absorb more oil during deep-frying than it would through other cooking methods. About one in four high school students in Houston already drink one or more sodas a day, according to a recent Harris County Healthcare Alliance report.
School lunches are the subject of a considerable amount of impassioned national debate lately; many conservatives had no idea how much they hated healthy lunches until Michelle Obama made them a centerpiece of her priorities as first lady. Since his election, Miller has been dead set on his mission to liberate the lunchroom—before his campaign to bring back the deep fryer, Miller’s first official act as commissioner was to “grant amnesty” to cupcakes, brownies and other baked goods, products that he feels should be for sale in schools, but are currently restricted to a limited amount of “fundraiser days” each year. Though as New York magazine points out, he’s also not the first person in his position to advocate for unhealthier school lunches:
Miller's predecessor, Todd Staples, also made school lunches a focus of his term. In 2014, he called Meatless Mondays "treasonous" and "a carefully orchestrated campaign that seeks to eliminate meat from Americans’ diets seven days a week— starting with Mondays.”
While sentiments like Staples’ might come off as paranoid to some, they are indicative of the reactionary attitudes that have sprung up around the school lunch battlefield, and plans—like Miller’s—that are willing to make students collateral damage in the battle to spite political adversaries. In fact, Susan Combs, Miller’s fellow Republican and the former agricultural commissioner who originally instated the deep fryer ban, condemned Miller’s deep-fryer advocacy to the Tribune:
“I don't think there is any way he could have studied the issue or he never would have done this,” said Combs, who said it was “unimaginable” that Miller would go ahead with these repeals. “I am actually baffled and sorry that Commissioner Miller did what was not good for kids. If you give children bad choices, they will make them.”