retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB took note of a New York Times report that First Lady Michelle Obama is "pushing back" against a proposal in the US House of Representatives that would exempt some school lunch programs from meeting mandated dietary and nutrition standards, based on whether school districts are profitable or not.

I commented:

There always are reasons not to do such things. But I have to say that IMHO, making school meals more nutritious ought to be a high priority. Too many of them serve slop that does nothing to nourish the kids who eat it. And nourishing kids' bodies ought to be seen as important as nourishing their minds.

One MNB user responded:

I agree that we need to make sure the school food is nutritious.  However, locally (my wife is a teacher) there has been a huge upswing in the amount of food thrown away after the government put in the new regulations on school lunches due to the children not liking what they are eating,  There also appears to be a large decrease in children purchasing the school prepared food and milk.  Schools in my area have had to raise lunch prices (to cover overhead) as more children are bringing their food to school- and unfortunately, more times than not, it is the chips and soda that are in these lunch boxes that the government is trying to prevent.

Furthermore, my wife's school has had to lay off some of the kitchen staff due to decrease purchases of the school meals.  I would ask the government take a step back and look at these implemented guidelines under the current administration to see if it is really effectively helping children eat more healthy or is it shifting the meal solution from a hot school provided meal to a take from home meal.

MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

On the one hand you have a drive to only offer healthy food in schools.  It's a good idea with unintended consequences.  Because a lot of it does wind up in the trash, uneaten.  And a lot of it just doesn't get purchased.  Which results in hungry kids.  Or you serve a variety of choices, including less than healthy, and wind up with less waste and less hungry kids.

Hungry kids have trouble learning.  And school should primarily be about learning.  So where do we strike the balance?

From another:

I saw a posting that outlined the lunch menu (tilapia, meatball subs, etc) at Sidwell Friends a school in DC where the Obama family has chosen to send their children.  I have no political agenda here, but an interesting idea—perhaps Sidwell could put together a menu based on the amount of funding received by a public school to show all the children how lucky they are to attend a school that can afford good food.

All children should have access to good quality food, especially if that might be the only meal they are assured of receiving, no matter how lucky (or hard they and/or their parents work) to be enrolled in a high-end private school.  I have also found it interesting to see how competitive college foodservice has become—there is a Japanese steakhouse option at Virginia Tech!

I think the school lunch program is in need of a major overhaul, but honestly I don’t know where to start.  Seeing the lunch ladies force kids to take an apple that ends up in the trash is not the solution, but if half of them at least take a couple of bites, it is a start.

And another:

I, too, agree with the efforts to make our kids' school lunches healthier, but I question the tactics the government is using to achieve this. My high-school aged daughter has complained that she is now required to take two servings of fruits/vegetables every day. She's an active and healthy kid who likes fruits and veggies and has good eating habits. But she says there are times when she simply doesn't want to eat what the school is offering that day. She may not care for what they're serving, but she is forced to purchase it to meet the federal guidelines. She tells me that most kids just buy the food and then throw it into the trash. How is that helping solve the problem? Like the old saying.... "You can lead a horse to water….."

MNB reader Tom Herman wrote:

I don’t think the federal government should be mandating what local school districts do.  They can provide guidelines.  Since when was Michelle Obama elected to dictate what local schools do.  Advocating is one thing, dictating is another.  If you looked a little closer you would see that these lunches are not popular with the kids, they are going uneaten and thrown away and they are costing the school districts tons of money.  Some districts have had to lay off teachers because of it.  The top down big brother approach does not work.  What’d next, telling adults what size soft drinks they can purchase?

Another wrote:

If your kid doesn’t like what is being served, they can pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That’s what mine do. Really don’t understand why this is such an issue. Aren’t there more important things in education that need addressing?

MNB reader Beatrice Orlandini wrote:

Amazing how private interests can cause major nearsightedness.

Haven't these people ever thought of the impact on children's health caused by a bad diet? And the ensuing costs for society?

Maybe not in the very near future, but much nearer that you may think.

Teaching EVERYBODY to eat healthy should be a priority of every administration.

BTW, healthy food CAN also be VERY good…

I have to admit that I find the "kids will just throw the apples in the trash" argument kind of amusing.

You're right. A lot of kids are not eating the healthier lunches. But if we applied the same criteria to all of the subjects taught in schools, then there would be a lot of kids opting out of an awful lot of classes. (I never would have taken math or science, for example.)

Isn't the point of education helping people to make more educated choices and decisions? I think that this ought to include the foods served in lunchrooms, as well as teaching kids about sports and approaches to exercise that they can carry with them throughout their lives.

BTW…sure, Michelle Obama has played a major role in lobbying for one approach to these issues, but she isn't "dictating" anything. Federal regulators are. And especially since pretty much every First Lady since Betty Ford has been activist in one area or another, I have no problem with that … she's actually offering a balance to all the big corporate interests that may be lobbying for self-serving regulations.

The reason that federal regulators are getting involved in such issues is, if I understand the system correctly, because these public school districts are accepting federal money that go to their meal programs. As a taxpayer, I'd rather that money go to nutritious foods that help to reinforce broader notions about smarter, informed choices. They can eat crap at home, or on the street corner, or anyplace else. In schools, we ought to be raising the bar.

And for the record … I say this as someone who has had weight issues for his entire life, and probably ate way too many napoleons for dessert in my high school cafeteria.

We're smarter about such things now. We actually ought to act like it.

Got an interesting email about Amazon:

Kevin, when we looked at doing business with Amazon, we realized with all of their fees and terms, we needed to add 23% to the cost for us to make the margins we needed. Part of it was the programs you needed to be in such as subscribe and save (13%). The other big factor was they wanted to hold your money longer than any other account we work with. We usually give 2% for 30 days net 31 but they wanted 2% 60 net 61. It was definitely tilted in their favor. BTW – we chose not to do it.

MNB reader Skye Lininger emailed me a note saying that at least one publisher has defended Amazon's position, saying…

…it’s nothing more than a run-of-the-mill vendor/retailer negotiation blown out of proportion and mis-reported in the original NYT article on the subject.

Like you, I am an Amazon fan. It is interesting that the press turned on them over this issue, making it into a David vs Goliath story. In fact, Hachette is part of a $10b publishing conglomerate and Amazon is just doing what retailers do, negotiating aggressively with its vendors. I like Amazon’s pricing, it saves me money several times each month—and, like all good retailers (and I think of Kroger, Trader Joe’s and Costco) they can only provide those savings by negotiating effectively on my behalf.

On another subject, MNB reader Jeannine Wilkins wrote:

I am a regular reader of MNB and always appreciate your input.  Thought I’d share some of my background as it relates to the power of consumer input.  This is actually what I do for a living – and several of my clients are in the retail/hospitality/entertainment business which is why I enjoy your daily email.  My company creates online communities (private) where a company’s customers can share their thoughts, often via surveys and discussions.  They can also start their own discussions – so the client company gets unsolicited feedback as well.  They can and do also share images – one that comes to mind is a shopper sharing a picture they took of all the cigarette butts at the store entrance because store employees gathered there to smoke and they were tired of having to pass through a  cloud of smoke to get in the store. It’s pretty powerful stuff.
KC's View: