Letter: Why Oppose Improving School Food?

Letter: Why Oppose Improving School Food?

Letter to the Editor

For a local take on a subject of national interest, the School Nutrition Association’s powerful influence is being felt in Annapolis. In response to proposed legislation to improve the quality of food in Maryland’s public schools, officers from the Maryland Chapter of the SNA came out to testify against these bills. These same Maryland SNA officers are employed as the director and the assistant director of Food and Nutrition Services for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the largest school system in Maryland.

Seven bills which seek to improve the school food environment for all Maryland public school students are working their way through the Maryland State Legislature this session. These bills originated from the Healthy School Food Maryland Coalition. Details about the bills can be found at www.healthyschoolfoodMD.org.

On Friday, March 13, four of the seven bills were heard by the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Del. Sheila Hixson of Montgomery County. These four bills include: the Sugar-Free Schools Act, the Thirsty Kids Act, the Chemical-Free Schools Act, and the Vending Machines and Marketing Act.

The Sugar-Free Schools Act would require each school district in Maryland to develop a plan to reduce added sugar in school meals down to the level recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA). I, director of Real Food for Kids – Montgomery (RFKM), and Lindsey Parsons, coordinator for Healthy School Food Maryland and executive director of RFKM, testified in favor of this bill. In my testimony I stated: “This bill, if passed, will be a good first step in shining a light on levels of added sugar in school food, thereby counteracting the undue influence of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) which gets more than 50 percent of its budget from big food companies and employs the same lobbying firm as the NRA.”

Testifying against the Sugar-Free Schools Act were Kate Heinrich, president of the Maryland School Nutrition Association (MSNA) and Marla Caplon, chair of MSNA’s Nutrition Committee. Mrs. Heinrich is employed as the assistant director, Division of Food and Nutrition Services (DFNS) for the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Mrs. Caplon is employed as the director of DFNS for MCPS. Mrs. Heinrich and Mrs. Caplon also testified against the Thirty Kids Act and the Chemical-Free Schools Act. MCPS is the largest school district in Maryland with over 150,000 students.

In response, Ms. Parsons stated, “I'm hopeful that our state legislators will recognize that the Maryland School Nutrition Association is not looking out for the best interests of our children and that they will side with the parents who started this coalition to gain back some control over what the schools are feeding our children. A diet of processed, sugary, chemical-laden foods does not foster optimum academic achievement."

RFKM is a grassroots parent and student advocacy group in Montgomery County with over 3,800 supporters, including parents in 180 schools in MCPS. Currently, 26 percent of Maryland high school students are overweight or obese.

Karen Devitt


Real Food for Kids - Montgomery