States Fight Trump Attack on School Meals for Poor Kids

First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visit Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, on Jan. 25, 2012. They join children for lunch in the cafeteria where the school’s food service employees and celebrity cook Rachael Ray serve a healthy meal that met new U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards for school lunches. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

MANHATTAN (CN) — After systematically targeting immigration, health care, foreign policy and the environment — key policies of former President Barack Obama — the Trump administration took aim last year at the former first lady’s signature accomplishment: healthy school breakfast and lunches.

On Wednesday, a coalition led by six states plus the District of Columbia sued to defend the nutritional standards that Michelle Obama helped roll out seven years ago, in coordination with a very different U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Over a million children in New York – especially those in low-income communities and communities of color – depend on the meals served daily by their schools to be healthy, nutritious, and prepare them for learning,” state Attorney General Letitia James, the lead plaintiff in today’s lawsuit, said in a press release.

“The Trump administration has undermined key health benefits for our children – standards for salt and whole grains in school meals – with deliberate disregard for science, expert opinion, and the law,” James added.

Joining New York and the nation’s capital in the battle are California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont.

“School meals with higher levels of sodium and lower whole grains pose particular harm to children and adolescents who have elevated risk factors for cardiovascular disease and other health problems due to obesity,” the 35-page complaint states.

The coalition asks a federal judge to nullify the Trump administration’s “arbitrary and capricious” decision in 2018 to eliminate his predecessor’s sodium target and to reduce the whole grain requirement by half.

At a ceremony rolling out the old regulations in January 2012, the then-first lady told parents that they should expect more from their children’s diets.

“When we send our kids to school, we have a right to expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we’re trying to keep from them when they’re at home,” Michelle Obama said in a speech at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. “We have a right to expect that the food they get at school is the same kind of food that we want to serve at our own kitchen tables.”

A photograph in the Obama White House’s archives shows the former First Lady dining with elementary school students on a lunch of turkey tacos, black bean and corn salad, and fresh fruit.

President Donald Trump presents a smorgasbord of fast food at the White House to feed the Clemson Tigers on Jan. 14, 2019. (Picture: The White House)

That shot stands in stark contrast to a far different picture of President Donald Trump offering student athletes with the Clemson Tigers a junk-food bacchanal, on a table filled with McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King and golden candelabras.

Trump repeated the stunt with athletes from the North Dakota State Bison last month. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that the Trump administration showed “disregard for good governance and the facts” with school meals.

“That’s why we’re stepping in to protect the long-term health and well-being of our students and children throughout the country,” Becerra said in a statement. “A healthy diet is important for all Americans, but it is especially important for the development of our youth.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

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