When school lunches become political


Most educators, except for some food service directors or cafeteria managers, have never heard of Todd Staples, and it is just as well. He is nearing the end of his second – and last – term as Texas agriculture commissioner, and in what may be his parting shot of publicity has registered a beef with a “Meatless Monday” program that Dripping Springs ISD is experimenting with in some of its school cafeterias this year.

Now, Staples is entitled to his opinion, which he expressed this week in an oped in the Austin American-Statesman, but I have a couple of beefs with him over it.

Number one, Staples is not a nutritionist, his article includes factual errors about nutrition and the decision by the Central Texas school district is not a subversive plot, as Staples infers. It is, in fact, a well-reasoned exercise in local control, a concept that Republican officeholders, such as Staples, supposedly cherish – almost as much as Tea Party Republicans cherish cutting school funding.

Which brings me to my second complaint. For those of you who don’t recall – and that may be most of you – Staples lost a race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor last spring. Most educators may have ignored him because he said virtually nothing about school funding, testing, school lunches or any other education issue over which the lieutenant governor has considerable influence.

About the only thing I remember him campaigning for was “border security,” an issue that the lieutenant governor doesn’t have much control over. But Staples couldn’t hyper-ventilate as well as Dan Patrick could on that issue for the benefit of Tea Party voters, and so Patrick is the GOP’s lieutenant governor nominee.

As agriculture commissioner, Staples has some oversight over school lunch programs. But the main function of that office under Staples and his recent predecessors has been to promote Texas agriculture products. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but Texas produces a lot of vegetables, as well as meat.

I don’t know if Staples already has decided what he is going to do when his last term as commissioner ends in a few more months. But I wonder if his rant against “Meatless Mondays” was an audition for a new job, say, as a lobbyist or promoter for beef, pork or poultry producers.

We’ll see.





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