Some school children in Blackford County, Indiana, are reportedly bringing salt, pepper and sugar to school to eat and sell to other students at lunchtime.
This behavior is in response to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010 to help combat the skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes among America's young people. The law funded healthy nutritional guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for public school lunches.
John Payne, president of the Blackford County School Board of Trustees and a director of the Indiana School Board Association, told a Congressional panel on June 24:
"In my school district, students are slipping through a one-size-fits-all “net,” either opting out or declining to eat food that lacks appeal.
"...Perhaps the most colorful example in my district is that students have been caught bringing — and even selling — salt, pepper and sugar in school to add taste to perceived bland and tasteless cafeteria food. This 'contraband' economy is just one example of many that reinforce the call for flexibility."
The USDA loosened the food rules in 2014 for more flexibility.
"Students are avoiding cafeteria food. More students bring their lunch , and a few parents even 'check out' their child from campus, taking them to a local fast-food restaurant or home for lunch."
The Indy Star notes that Republican Rep. Todd Rokita of Indiana stated:
"From firsthand experience, I can verify that despite the increased federal involvement in the school meals program, many students are still going to class hungry."
Conservative websites have attempted to lay the blame on first lady Michelle Obama for the kids' refusal to eat healthy food.
Reason blared the headline, "Michelle Obama’s America: Salt ‘Black Markets’ Arise in School Cafeterias," while The Washington Beacon cried, "Kids Create Salt Black Markets in Cafeterias Due to Michelle Obama’s Lunch Rules."
Donna Martin, director of the school nutrition program in Burke County, Georgia, told the committee:
"We have the opportunity to change a generation. We have an opportunity to raise kids that, when they go into McDonald's, they want a whole-wheat hamburger bun."
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak told the same Congressional committee last week:
"I can't see the reason to reduce the standards. We have provided flexibility in sodium, whole grains and in other aspects of the rule. I think we'll continue to look for opportunities to be flexible. But I don't think you want to roll the standards back."