News and notes from reader emails, the news, and life in general:
USDA Lunch Follies, Part One
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it at least twice: when a government program fails, government officials interpret the failure as proof that they should do it again – only bigger!
Students all over the country are complaining about the tasteless and unsatisfying lunches mandated by the USDA, and they’re throwing away the fruits and vegetables the USDA requires them to put on their plates. So how does the USDA respond to this failure? By encouraging parents to serve the same kinds of meals at home, of course:
Government-approved school meals as a model for the family dinner table?
Responding to concerns that students are throwing away the healthy food on their cafeteria trays, the U.S. Department of Agriculture acknowledged that adapting to the changes “may be challenging at first, as students are introduced to new flavors and foods in the cafeteria.”
Actually, geniuses, if you pay attention to the students’ complaints, you’ll recognize that the “challenge” stems from less flavor and less food, not the “newness” of it all.
But the government also says parents can help schools make the taste-transition easier:
“We know that many parents are already making changes at home to help the whole family eat healthier,” the USDA blogged on Monday. “We recommend reviewing school menus with kids at home and working to incorporate foods that are being served at school into family meals as much as possible.”
“Hey, kids, let’s review those lunches you hate at school and talk about serving the same foods for family dinners as well.”
“Great idea, Mom. In these tough economic times, you definitely want to buy a lot of food that Sis and I will toss in the trash.”
Let me interpret the USDA’s suggestion: Parents, if you serve crappy, unsatisfying meals at home, your kids won’t be so quick to recognize that their school lunches are crappy and unsatisfying.
USDA Lunch Follies, Part Two
The USDA orders school kids to put foods on their plates they don’t want to eat, so the students (surprise!) toss those foods into the trash. Hmmm, how should we deal with this? Stop insisting kids take foods they don’t want? Let them decide for themselves what they’ll eat for lunch? Nawwww … the obvious next move here is to conduct a careful study of the trash.
After finding out that most of the fruits and vegetables on the school lunch menu ended up in the trash, school board members in the Lake County school district in central Florida are considering attaching cameras to school cafeteria trash cans to study what students are tossing out.
“How many hours of trash-can video have you reviewed, Jenkins?”
“And what have you seen?”
“So far, I’ve seen 437 kids giving us the finger.”
“Interesting. I didn’t think kindergartners could even spot a spycam.”
“Yes, they’re a bright bunch, sir.”
“I said, how about we put cameras in the trash cans so we can document the concrete data of what students are throwing out,” School Board member Tod Howard told NBC News. “That way we can not only show what the students are not eating, but we can also look at how presentation affects consumption and present that data to the federal government if we need to.”
Ahh, yes, that’s why the kids are throwing away the fruits and vegetables they’re forced to put on their plates: unappealing presentations. If you arrange carrots in amusing patterns, kids will snap them up.
Howard said he made the suggestion as a 2010 federal law on child nutrition, vigorously promoted by first lady Michelle Obama, went into effect in schools across the nation.
Among other things, the law requires schools across the county to serve an increased number of vegetables, including weekly servings of leafy greens, red or orange vegetables, and legumes. Students must take at least one serving, but according to officials from the Lake County Food Services Department, Howard said, that led students last year to toss about $75,000 worth of produce in the garbage.
“They have to take it, and then it ends up in the trash can. And that’s a waste of taxpayer money, and it’s also not giving students the nutrition that they need.”
I don’t know why spending tax dollars on food that ends up in the trash would concern anyone. According to prevailing economic theories, that’s a “stimulus” program. I’m surprised Paul Krugman hasn’t called for continually increasing the amount of unwanted food we force students to take until we reach full employment. Better yet, we should borrow money from the Chinese to buy vegetables grown in China, ship them to the U.S., then throw them away.
Howard said the idea is still in its early stages, and he and other school board members are still working out logistics. While he says the actual cost of the initiative for the 40,000-student district has not yet been quantified, he suspected it would be low because he proposed re-purposing old security cameras that the school already owns for the trash can monitoring.
Well, that’s what I love about government: the never-ending quest for thrift and efficiency. Re-purposing existing security cameras and conducting a video study of the lunch-room trash would definitely be cheaper than, say, tapping a few dozen kids on the shoulder and saying, “Excuse me, do you mind telling me which part of your USDA-mandated lunch you’re throwing in the trash and why?”
The USDA started making dietary recommendations in the 1970s. That means the baby-boomers were the first generation affected by those guidelines. Let’s see how that’s working out:
The Baby Boomer generation’s overall health has been on a sharp decline.
Australian researchers from Adelaide’s three universities have completed the first stage of a report on the generation born between the end of the Second World War and the mid-1960s.
Obesity among baby boomers is more than double the rate of their parents at the same age, and boomers with three or more chronic conditions was 700 percent greater than the previous generation.
When I was talking to Dr. Ann Childers on the low-carb cruise, she mentioned something about all those baby-boomers running around shirtless at Woodstock in 1969, sporting “flat bellies they didn’t deserve.” By “didn’t deserve,” she of course meant they weren’t dieting or exercising or otherwise making efforts to be thin. They just were. That was before the USDA started telling us how to eat. Take a look at some pictures from Woodstock:
The generation that warned its members to never trust anybody over age 30 should have checked the ages of the people who came up with the Food Pyramid.
As the first wave of baby-boomer reached age 60, many of them were fond of saying “Sixty is the new forty.” Yeah, right. Here’s a little thought experiment: Imagine your great-grandfather at age 40. Now put him in a contest with an average 60-year-old from today … foot race, softball game, boxing match, bar brawl, whatever. Who would you bet on?
Okay, that was too easy. Now suppose your 60-year-old great-grandfather was up against an average 40-year-old today. Who would you bet on? I’ve seen a picture of my great-grandfather in his 60s. I’m betting on him.
Professor Graeme Hugo from the University of Adelaide said the findings were alarming and evidence that new public policies were needed.
Professor Hugo, public policies are what got us into this mess. Public policies are the reason school kids in the U.S. are tossing their lunches into the trash. If we’re looking for answers, perhaps we should start by examining the public policies (and lack thereof) back when the baby-boomers’ parents and grandparents managed to feed themselves without becoming fat and sick.
Scientists Are Freakin’ Liars
I’ll preface this by saying (again) that I don’t believe most scientists are liars. But far too many are, and I believe the motivation for being freakin’ liars usually boils down to one of two reasons:
1. They have a pet theory and want that theory to be right.
2. They want to keep the grant money flowing in.
A recent article in The Register points to the second cause:
Medical boffins are rarely wrong when they publish in journals – but some are prepared to lie quite a lot, according to a new study on retracted scientific papers.
Previous studies have claimed that most papers are pulled from publication because there’s some error in them, but this fresh investigation claims malpractice is actually responsible for two-thirds of all retractions.
Boffin misconduct includes copying others’ findings and plagiarism, but fraud and suspected fraud are the biggest problem and that’s increased ten-fold since 1975. For this new study, 2,047 biomedical and life-science research articles indexed by PubMed that were retracted by 3 May, 2012 were reviewed.
The researchers aren’t sure why so many scientists are now willing to steal their results, but the increasingly desperate competition for funding might have something to do with it.
Milking governments for cash for projects with no obvious monetary value has always been tough, but the global recession is making it worse – and it’s feared some scientists have bent their findings to suit paymasters’ agendas to guarantee funding.
Scientists bending their findings to suit their paymasters’ agendas is nothing new, of course. We wouldn’t have a $30 billion statin industry otherwise. The difference is that statins do have a monetary value, if very little health value.
“Scientists are human, and some of them will succumb to this pressure, especially when there’s so much competition for funding,” said Arturo Casadevall, a professor of microbiology, immunology and medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
The academic, who is the senior author of the study, continued: “Perhaps our most telling finding is what happened after 2005, which is when the number of retractions began to skyrocket. That’s exactly when National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding began to get very tight.
I think the lesson for the scientists is obvious: if you want to continue milking governments for cash for projects with no obvious monetary value, get out of the medical-research business and start a solar-energy company … or a company that provides vegetables for school lunches.
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