Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — who caused a stir last year by pardoning a cupcake and reversing a longstanding ban on deep fryers and soda machines in schools — pushed back Thursday against those who say his policies encourage unhealthy eating among kids.
"We are aggressively going after childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes." Miller said at an event hosted by the Texas Tribune.
Interviewed by Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith, the Republican said critics of his decision to allow schools to reinstate deep-fried freedom were ignoring his other nutritional programs. And he suggested that a fried Texas-grown potato was healthier than the kinds of school lunches served under federal standards pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Those foods, he said, are “prepared in some industrial kitchen” and loaded with "with additives, preservatives and dyes and all other kind of junk.”
“How about we let them put a fryer in there, and have a sweet-potato fry, which is approved, and cook it fresh, with no additives and preservatives. Which is healthier in your mind?” he said.
Nutritionists and health experts expressed dismay last year when Miller reversed a 10-year ban on fryers and soda machines on public school campuses as part of a new state nutrition policy calling for more local foods, community engagement and training to help schools serve meals that are "attractive and taste great."
Miller also granted amnesty to cupcakes during his first act as commissioner in an attempt to reassure Texas parents that cupcakes and other treats would be allowed in schools under his administration, which he promised would increase local control and protect the rights of parents.
Miller said Tuesday that the old policies failed to curb obesity, and it only prompted kids to look outside of cafeterias for better-tasting and potentially unhealthy lunches.
Now, he said, more Texas kids are “returning to eating in the lunchroom now, because the food is good.”
Last July, the Tribune reported that many large school districts did not plan to bring back sodas or fryers to their campuses, despite Miller's high-profile announcements.
Miller’s signature school nutrition policy includes a “Farm Fresh Fridays” initiative that seeks to “bring greater awareness to healthy, Texas-grown foods and increase connections between Texas schools and local farmers and ranchers.”
On Thursday, he suggested that schools in rapidly urbanizing Texas could do more to foster interest in agriculture by planting gardens on their campuses.
"Most kids never experienced that. It might spark an interest in somebody becoming an organic gardener," he said.