Led by Agudath Israel of America, haredim are finding it hard to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The law, which went into effect this year, is supposed to make school lunches healthier, and allocates billions of dollars to make this possible. Haredim say they need exemptions for religious reasons – or they need more money from the federal government to comply with the existing law.
Led by Agudath Israel of America, haredim are finding it hard to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The law, which went into effect this year, is supposed to make school lunches healthier, and, according to a report in the Forward, allocates billions of dollars to make this possible. Haredim say they need exemptions for religious reasons – or they need
more money from the federal government to comply with the existing law.
Many haredi schools allegedly do not actually have lunch programs. Instead, they stage school lunches for the few days inspectors might arrive, and the rest of the time, children go home for lunch or eat whatever their parents pack for them. The school pockets the federal and state money meant to subsidize the lunches during the rest of the school year. I’ve spoken to haredim whose schools defrauded the government this way. They were told by the schools’ administration to lie tothe inspectors if necessary to cover up the fraud.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires both public and private schools receiving federal lunch assistance to follow a new set of nutritional guidelines that include limiting grain consumption, replacing refined grains with whole grains, mandating that each student get at least half a cup of dark-green and red-orange vegetables per meal, and limiting sodium intake. To get federal money for school lunches, a school has to comply with these new guidelines.
But haredim say they cannot do that.
Haredim claim that giving students enough bread to say the full Grace after Meals – in their minds, approximately one slice – uses up a meal’s entire grain allotment, meaning pasta dishes or rice dishes could not be served.
In the meeting earlier this month with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agudath Israel and the Jewish Education Project (previously known as the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York) raised this issue. The USDA agreed to allow haredi schools to increase their amount of grain consumption per meal, as long as the overall calorie content of each meal was no higher than the maximum allowed by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
This compromise does not address glycemic load issues that presage obesity and diabetes or deal with the lack of phytonutrients that are potent cancer inhibitors and which also play a role in reducing heart disease – facts the USDA overlooked to accommodate haredim.
In October 2012, haredim also complained that dark green vegetables pose a another religious problem for them that needs to be accommodated.
Tiny bugs, usually invisible to the naked eye or appearing as extremely tiny dots about the size of the head of a pin.
“The problem of insect infestation has been confirmed by numerous rabbinical authorities and kosher certification agencies, and many schools have raised this problem,” Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Washington director, insists.
Agudath Israel reportedly told USDA and Department of Education officials at that October 2012 meeting that the cost of purchasing kosher certified insect-free leafy green vegetables would cost four times as much as regular vegetables. Those vegetables are sometimes kept (purportedly) bug free by hyper-spraying them with pesticides. In fact, Israel’s Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recently ruled that consuming these so-called bug-free kosher supervised vegetables is a threat to health, and he ordered people to purchase regular leafy green vegetables and wash them as out mothers and grandmothers used to do. But Agudath Israel of America rejected using regular unsupervised leafy green vegetables because hiring kosher inspectors to carefully examine each leaf would cost too much money.
They also claimed that if the government forced haredi schools to serve these leafy green vegetables without proper kosher certification, parents will order their children not to eat them, defeating the purpose of serving them.
“We are not in any way opposed to changes in school lunches. We think it is a laudable goal to give children more choices. We just want to make sure that everyone’s needs and objectives can be fulfilled,” Cohen told the Forward.
Agudath Israel’s objective here seems clear: to get haredi schools multiple times more federal money per student than other schools get. Thankfully, the USDA and USDoE haven’t yet gone along with it, forcing haredim to spend money on something other than fighting New York City’s new informed consent requirement for metzitzah b’peh, the direct mouth-to-bloody-penis-sucking done by (mostly) haredi mohels after removing a baby’s foreskin.
Haredim reportedly hired a nutritionist to design alternative meal plans that would provide nutritional values equal to what the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires while excluding vegetables haredim view as problematic.
If the nutritionist is actually able to do this – which is unlikely unless the nutritional values counted by the federal government are dumbed down specifically for haredim – the USDA could decide to accept the haredi meal plan as valid.
The issue of grain and leafy green vegetable consumption illustrates in part how problematic the haredi diet is. There are many haredim reaching marriageable age who have never eaten a green salad or tasted broccoli or spinach. What will the health of their children be like?