The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has left Southerners at the end of their wits -- especially as grits have been taken off school cafeteria menus.
The Cook County Farm Bureau refers to the South, stretching from Texas to Virginia, as the "grits belt." And when the new legislation essentially banned grits from school lunch menus, members of the belt really took the hit hard.
Grits are a Southern staple dish made of stone-ground corn and cooked in copious amounts of butter. Eaten at any time of the day, grits are often accompanied by toppings such as seafood. But the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which was led by former First Lady Michelle Obama, made it impossible for school cafeterias to serve the dish because the recipe doesn’t follow its strict nutritional guidelines, Fox News reported.
Stephanie Dillard, the child nutrition director for Geneva County Schools in Alabama, spoke out against the ban on grits.
“We could originally serve half whole grains but that changed in 2012 when we had to start serving 100 percent whole grains,” Dillard explained.
That being said, since 2012, students attending schools along the grits belt have not seen this staple dish on the menu.
A group of school nutritionists advocating for the inclusion of grits at schools made their way up to Washington, D.C., where they spoke to Congressional lawmakers about the Obama-era restriction on grits.
"We’re asking for some flexibility so we can serve 50-percent whole grains. If we can have that, we would be allowed to serve our grits,” Dillard added.
For those of you reading this and cringing at the idea of changing the policy's rules, I want you to understand that loosening the nutritional guidelines does not mean caving in to childhood obesity.
Because of Michelle's act, students have gone viral on social media in their pleas for help. These new rules limited sugar, salt, whole grains and more. And as such, school lunches really lost their already-strained appeal. The hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama has picked up momentum online, BuzzFeed reported, with students documenting their atrocious lunches since the legislation passed.
You know what's worse than allowing for a little more salt and less whole grains? Students opting out of school lunches and heading to a local McDonald's after school.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA), is a lobby group that represents over 57,000 members that are a part of the school food service industry.
In 2017, SNA published a paper expressing their frustrations while under the 2010 Act. They are lobbying for reform to the current legislation.
"Federal nutrition standards should be modified to help school menu planners manage these challenges and prepare nutritious meals that appeal to diverse student tastes," the paper stated.
"Schools are struggling with limited availability of specialty whole-grain items and meeting students’ regional and cultural preferences for certain refined grains, such as white rice, pasta, grits, bagels or tortillas," the paper says.
As changes are being advocated for, one can't help but hope that grits make their way back to Southern school cafeterias. After all, it just isn't the grits belt without the grits, right?