No longer will I think of Dan Quayle when the admittedly obscure subject of potatoes and schools arises. (Remember when he, the vice president, misspelled potato at an elementary school in 1992, putting an ‘e’ at the end?) Now we have the case of the Senate, in this troubled economic age, taking the time to take care of the interests of industrial potato farmers at the possible expense of school kids.

Here’s what happened:

Amid an obesity epidemic among young people — about 17 percent, or 12.5 million, of Americans aged 2 to 19 years are obese, government statistics show — the Agriculture Department set forth proposed rules earlier this year designed to force public schools to provide healthier meals to students. First lady Michelle Obama has made childhood obesity a key issue, starting her “Let's Move” initiative which promotes healthier eating for children.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in January announced a revamping of nutrition guidelines for school meals for the first time since 1995 that would reduce, over time, sodium, starchy vegetables and trans fats while increasing fruits and non-starchy vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods.

Under the guidelines, potatoes, which were found to be unexpectedly fattening according to a recently federally funded Harvard University analysis of data collected over 20 years, would be limited to two servings a week for students eating federally subsidized meals in school cafeterias.

Some folks complained that the federal government shouldn’t be laying out such specific rules about what schools serve in their lunchroom — though nobody said much in the past when different foods were banned.

Senators from potato-growing states took aim at the guidelines, or, rather, the vegetable restrictions. Republican Sen. Susan Collins from Maine and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado co-sponsored an amendment to legislation providing funding for the Agriculture Department — approved on Tuesday by voice vote — that would bar the department from putting any limits on potatoes or vegetables in federally subsidized school meals.

It was nice of the senators to include rhutabaga and other vegetables in the amendment, but let’s get real: It was the potato farmers they were protecting, not the vegetables, and not the kids.


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