business news in context, analysis with attitude

Lots of reaction to last week’s story - and my commentary - about “how a preschooler at a North Carolina school was forced to eat three chicken nuggets when a state employee said that the lunch prepared for her at home by her mother did not meet federal nutrition guidelines.”

According to the Carolina Journal story, “The girl's turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day.

“The Division of Child Development and Early Education at the Department of Health and Human Services requires all lunches served in pre-kindergarten programs - including in-home day care centers - to meet USDA guidelines. That means lunches must consist of one serving of meat, one serving of milk, one serving of grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables, even if the lunches are brought from home.

“When home-packed lunches do not include all of the required items, child care providers must supplement them with the missing ones.” And, the story notes, parents are then required to pay for the supplemental items.

And here’s the kicker. The kid, being a kid, only ate the nuggets, and brought the rest of her lunch home untouched.

I wrote:

The move by the federal employee was profoundly stupid. First of all, that sounds like a pretty good packed lunch by almost any standard. The rules were put into place to protect kids with moronic parents who pack them a soda and a Twinkie for lunch.

But I do think that people who are turning this into a political issue are over-stepping a little bit. Bureaucratic behavior can run amok at any time, but that doesn’t mean that you decide that all nutrition programs in public education are being put into place by food Nazis. Which is what some people would have us believe, because any gasoline that can be thrown on a political fire is seen as a good thing.

A stupid person did a stupid thing. They should be instructed about the spirit of nutrition rules, and told to use their common sense.

One MNB user wrote:

You don't seem to have read the story about the kid in North Carolina forced to eat chicken nuggets carefully enough. You say that the federal employee acted very stupidly. The story says the employee was a state employee.

Nor did you appear to catch the stupidest part of the story: the state requirement that all lunches include one serving of meat ... has no one in North Carolina ever heard of vegetarianism?

Some of the stories I saw said the employee was federal. But I don’t think that’s such a big deal.

As for your vegetarian point - you’re right.

MNB user Bill Welch wrote:

Kevin, at times you astound me.  Please describe the parameters under which it is ok with you that the government tells us or our children what to eat.   Next month do they tell us what to think or say?  OMG they already do that, my mistake.

Give me a break. The government doesn’t tell you what to think or say.

As for what our kids eat ... I think that if the government is helping to fund school lunch programs, then it has a perfect right - and responsibility - to require that the food be tasty and nutritious, rather than the slop that many schools traditionally have served. That strikes me as an intelligent and responsible use of my tax dollars.

Another MNB user wrote:

Here's what you DIDN'T SAY in your commentary:  "Under no circumstances will it ever be acceptable for a local, state, or federal "official" to confiscate a child's lunch brought from home and/or dictate what a child is required to eat when bringing his or her lunch from home."  [The only possible exceptions: obvious safety risks, alcohol, drugs, etc.].

Why not?  You fluffed it off as a stupid mistake by the official and referred to the "nutrition rules," but what's your take on government having license to determine what a parent includes in their child's lunch? 

While I understand (sort of) government weighing in on what gets served at schools -- within reason -- the idea that some government stooge should be able to tell my wife what she can feed my kids is an absolute non-starter.  To say "Yes" to such a gross over-reach is to say the government has the right to determine what you feed your kids for breakfast and dinner and what you feed them on weekends.  COME ON, MAN!

From another MNB user:

What made me crazy was not the story (as you suggested it would), it was your response. You think this is simply a matter of "A stupid person did a stupid thing"? You seem to be blind to the problems caused by the intrusion of government into our lives. Have you disregarded the Tea Party movement entirely? It doesn't occur to you why many would find this objectionable?

Parents should be allowed to feed their kids as they see fit without a bureaucrat making an evaluation.

I'd suggest you re-read 1984. We are about to get the biggest dose of Big Brother in American history when Obamacare's United States Preventative Services Task Force starts making decisions about what's covered by health insurance and what's not. I guess you think the complaints of the Catholic church are just about a stupid person doing a stupid thing.

I'd like to make my own decisions and have the bureaucrats butt out.

MNB user Lonn Whitmill wrote:

I disagree about this not being a political issue.  I will shortly turn 60 and have seen profound changes in the way that government impacts out lives.  What light bulb I can use to what my grandkids can be served at school (notice that I said what they are served rather than what they would eat).  What is wrong with teaching people correct principles and then letting them decide what to do with that knowledge.  A free society has an obligation to all members of that society and there must be laws, at a macro level, relative to the whole.  But whether my grandchild carries carrots to school in her lunch is not one of them.  The bigger the bureaucratic machine the more bureaucrats making stupid decisions.  Bureaucrats are another cog in the giant wheel of government and that is, to me, political.

But another MNB user chimed in:

I’ve written before that If the government is providing children lunch (Public School), then it is certainly within their right to regulate healthy choices.  In fact, the notion that such regulations are a nanny state serve to discredit those who oppose them because they must oppose any regulation regardless of merit.  What could possibly be wrong with the government serving healthy lunch at a government facility?  Nothing.  The catch all in my mind has always been that students are always free to bring whatever they want from home.  The regulation applies to what is served by the school and not the parent.  Perfect compromise.

That is why the North Carolina story troubled me.

When I get an e-mail from a certain co-worker that starts with “you won’t believe this,” I generally check the urban myth site to find that there is a reason I wouldn’t and shouldn’t believe.  In this case, I was curious what regulation was being violated in the lunch from home so I turned to Google which lead me to a follow up in the Washington Post.  In fact, it was teacher error.  Kids can bring what they want from home, teachers are only encouraged to supplement lunches that need it and in this case the child should have been offered milk. 
Teacher error.  Not a nanny state.

This was certainly my impression about the regulations - that they applied to lunches served, not lunches brought from home. Which is why I minimized the issue.

I’m sure this debate will continue. 🙂

And, we continue to get email about Supervalu’s travails...

One MNB user wrote:

Like many of your viewers writing in about Supervalu about the recent layoffs, I have also been with the company for almost 10 years, however, unlike many of the submissions, I was not one of the many effected by them.  In any large company, especially one that has seen continued declines in sales and performance, tough decisions like this one must be made.  However, I believe while we did make one tough decision, there have been many other smart, tactical, and strategic ones being made.  The tools, programs, and things that the company has in the work I believe have the capabilities to not only turn the company around, but will allow it to be at the front of the market.  Everything has been coming together, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s funny how once someone is outside of a company, they have no problem looking back and describing how many issues it has, but when they were inside of it they didn’t seem to be able to do the work to fix it either.  While the recent layoffs effected many long time employees, families, and friends, the company did, in my opinion, a good job of ensuring the top talent was retained and capable of taking over the tasks left by those departing.

Many people are also stuck on the idea that our CEO is "caught in the weeds," whereas I believe he is instead both in the weeds but in the air.  Craig understands the big picture, but is also relaying the message that the details matter- they have to matter- because the company is at the point where if we don't get it all right, every little thing, we are in bigger trouble than ever.

But another MNB user wrote:

It's amazing how much money Supevalu has to take numerous management people on expensive seven day cruises, pay big bonuses, fly all the store directors to Minnesota and worry about customer service when they are totally pricing themselves out of most markets. It's obvious they have their priorities wrong!

And, from yet another reader:

I’m a long time reader (back to the Idea Beat days), and this is the first time I’ve felt compelled send in comments for Your Views.

I was a long term (over 25 year) employee with Supervalu, and left in the last year.    There was a time when Supervalu was a growing company with long term, loyal employees who worked hard and together.   Employees knew that when you put in extra effort to accomplish the company goals, the reward would come.

This was before the acquisition of Albertsons.   I know others have written about the sentiment from long term Supervalu employees wondering which company acquired the other.   While every company can improve, there were many Supervalu practices and programs that were successful, received industry-wide recognition, and made them a company profitable enough to (unfortunately) make the acquisition.  Within the marketing and merchandising areas it appeared that anything attributed to Supervalu was determined to be outdated and ineffective (without actual review), regardless of the evidence to the contrary.    What was called “taking the best of both companies” turned into using Supervalu profitability to fund Albertsons merchandising plans that had already failed there prior to the acquisition.  Some of the previously successful Supervalu programs are the ones being resurrected (and updated) since Supervalu legacy employees took over responsibility for merchandising last year.   There is a strong fear that it is too little, and way too late.   The core of what made Supervalu great is still there if it can be unearthed, supported, and allowed 15 minutes to take root and flourish.

The company moved so far away from the basic blocking and tackling of retail and being merchants that it became unrecognizable – to employees and customers.   And to my personal disappointment, the company moved away from the core values that made it a successful company with long term, committed employees.

Supervalu has now managed to turn themselves into the company they acquired.   I sincerely hope for the good employees who remain that things can turn around.  I no longer have confidence that it can happen while on the current trajectory.   After 17 straight quarters of poor results, and with Captain ADHD discussing the fabric color of the deck chairs (via Yammer) versus being at the helm, something drastic and systemic needs to happen.

And this debate, as well, continues...
KC's View: