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Political food fight over school lunches


The race for the north country’s House of Representatives seat has turned into a food fight.


To get a first-hand taste of what he considers Democratic Rep. William L. Owens’ legislative overreach, Republican Matthew A. Doheny visited General Brown High School, Dexter, on Thursday and ate what was on the menu that day. He was left wanting more.

“My campaign manager and I had to get a snack after lunch,” Mr. Doheny said. “I was only allowed two ketchup packets. Swear to God.”

New U.S. Department of Agriculture standards cap calorie limits for school lunches, with a maxmium of 850 calories, and also require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. But critics complain that it’s a nanny-state overreach, and some schoolchildren say that it doesn’t provide them with enough calories to get through the day. It was part of an effort to combat childhood obesity. Mr. Owens, of Plattsburgh, voted in 2010 to allow the USDA to write the new rules.

But Mr. Owens correctly noted that Congress itself wasn’t drawing up calorie limits or requiring a certain number of celery sticks before soccer practice.

“It appears to me they did it incorrectly,” Mr. Owens said.

He said he has heard from schools and parents both in a professional and personal capacity. Mr. Owens says it’s a relatively simple fix for the USDA: up the calorie limits to make the regulation work better, and give local schools more flexibility with the nationwide standards.

Mr. Doheny’s objection is more broadly based.

“This is the responsibility of parents and people on the ground, parents and local folks,” Mr. Doheny said. “That is the true answer.”

The USDA had previously regulated school lunches, too. The new rules just made them stricter on calorie limits and healthier.

On Thursday, Mr. Doheny had a 2-ounce hamburger on a whole wheat bun with lettuce and tomato, a cup of baked beans, a half-cup of peaches and nonfat chocolate milk.

More and more students are bringing their lunches to school in brown bags. Mr. Doheny said he understands why.

“It’s not working,” Mr. Doheny said. “Students were pretty clear.”

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