By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Now that Michelle Obama has made curbing childhood obesity the rage, another effort with a similar wow factor is pressing the case for schools to provide healthful foods to replace the sugary and fatty products the first lady wants to send to the principal's office.
To publicize a bill being dropped Thursday to push school cafeteria veggies, promoters are rolling out dishy actress Scarlett Johansson and redheaded activist Elizabeth Kucinich to talk up the bennies of "plant-based meals."
"We're trying to drive healthy eating," says Kucinich, who's married to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the one-time Democratic presidential candidate. She represents the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is whipping up support for Rep. George Miller's Healthy School Meals Act of 2010. The measure is likely to be added to the upcoming reauthorization of the child nutrition law slated for consideration this year.
In a letter of support for the group and Miller, Johansson said that helping hungry children is her passion. "A means to a healthy diet and a nutritional education must begin in the school cafeteria, on the lunch line," she wrote.
Their efforts run in parallel with the first lady's antiobesity campaign, which comes at the issue from another direction. "We are absolutely working parallel, in tandem," said Kucinich, though she suggested that their effort is overshadowed by the first lady's. "We're pedaling away in the background," she said.
Key to the new legislation is urging schools to use more plant-based meals and less milk and fat. Kucinich said that incentives would be provided to schools under the legislation and that it would not create an unfunded mandate.