Debate over potatoes in school heats up

May 23, 2011

According to The Wall Street Journal, schools have featured potatoes on the menu, but now the federal government wants to all but toss tubers out of school. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proposing to eliminate the “white potato”—defined as any variety but the sweet potato—from federally subsidized school breakfasts and to limit them sharply at lunch.

This proposal is opposed by the potato industry, school cafeteria directors, and legislators from potato-growing regions. They’re fighting to keep potatoes on the menu in schools.

The proposed change is part of a push to make school meals healthier, with more nutrient-rich vegetables and fewer French fries. Under the USDA proposal, school cafeterias would have to limit starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, and lima beans to a total of one cup per week for lunch.

With the USDA set to release final rules in coming months, and put them into effect in the 2012–2013 school year, the National Potato Council in Washington, D.C., is urging the “entire potato industry” to mobilize. In its “Tell USDA to Keep Potatoes in Schools!” campaign, the National Potato Council calls the spud affordable and “kid pleasing,” adding “familiar shapes make lunchtime fun.” It bills potatoes as a “gateway,” that can introduce students to other vegetables “in, around, and on top of the potato.”

The USDA isn’t so much discriminating against potatoes, but wants to move away from the fried nature that some schools are preparing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack testified to the Senate in March. While many schools don’t deep-fry potatoes any longer, they offer “baked” fries—which can have less oil but may still be lightly fried by the processor.

The Wall Street Journal article