point, nutrition standards could not be met, which led to such proposals as allowing ketchup to count as a vegetable and donuts as a bread product (USDA/FNS, 1981). “It wasn’t an evil attempt,” Cooney said. “People were really trying.”
A wide variety of groups, including unions, principals, Parent-Teacher Associations,2 religious groups, food service personnel, nutrition and health groups, and pediatricians, joined forces under the aegis of the Food Research and Action Center3 and the Child Nutrition Forum.4 In addition, agricultural producers, including the National Association of Wheat Growers5 and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association,6 were involved, largely because they had a financial interest in the issue. These groups worked together and kept the legislation from achieving its ultimate end, which was to terminate the entitlement status for child nutrition programs, according to Cooney. The coalition also succeeded in blocking a change in the nutrition standard from providing one-third to providing one-quarter of the recommended dietary allowances per meal.
The coalition was particularly effective in drawing attention to its causes. For example, when cuts in school lunch funding were proposed, the alliance arranged to have the prospective lunches served in the Senate cafeteria. A picture was taken that is now on display at the National Archives, said Cooney, showing Senator Byrd, Senator Leahy, and others eating this meal, “which sounds small and is small.”
A similar example occurred in 1995 when Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proposed combining nutrition programs into a block grant that would have eliminated all federal nutrition standards. A cross-sector alliance defeated that effort.
Cooney drew several lessons from these campaigns. First, each sector has something to offer. Educators saw the relationship between nutrition and learning and were the best group to articulate that point. School food service personnel added their expertise on how the programs operated.
Another lesson is political. Every town in America has a school, Cooney observed. “If you are an elected member of Congress and you are going to cut the national school lunch program, there is only one phrase that applies to you—former member of Congress.”
Additionally, some of the most persuasive people are the most unlikely