BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
For U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, the idea of strictly limiting the caloric intake of elementary and high school students' cafeteria lunches defines the two different visions represented by the candidates for the presidency.
For one group, which he refers to as the "tater-tot counters" (Democrats), the vision is about more government being more involved in Americans' daily lives, he said.
The other group (Republicans) is looking to bring less government and freer enterprise, he added.
Roe, a retired physician from Johnson City, spoke to area news media during a conference call on Thursday.
He talked about his recent discussions with area schools directors who informed him that the new regulations concerning school lunches have left cafeteria workers counting the number of french fries that can go on each child's tray in order to meet, but not exceed, the required calorie count.
In Greene County, parents and school administrators have already noted the change in regulations, and many have expressed their displeasure.
The law -- the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act -- responds to childhood obesity statistics by making the most significant changes to be seen in public school cafeterias in 30 years.
Administered through the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, the changes will bring cafeteria lunches and breakfasts into alignment with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by 2022.
This year, the law mandated that all public school cafeterias across the nation implement the bulk of these changes in order to continue to receive federal funding.
This requirement meant changes not only in portion sizes but also in the food selection itself, to include more -- and better-for-you -- fruits, vegetables and whole grains, low-fat or fat-free milk, and the elimination of trans fats.
These changes have already prompted more children to pack their lunches, and have prompted parents to complain that their child is not getting enough to eat to stay "hunger-free" through the school day and on into after-school athletics and other activities.
While everyone should be encouraging healthful eating, Roe said, the problem he sees with the law is in the calorie counts that are so strictly limiting portion sizes.
In fact, he said, the idea deserves the "golden turkey award" it is so ridiculous.
"What happened was, in all fairness, the original bill did not have the number of calories a child can eat," Roe explained.
"We've already got a bill out -- Steve King [Representative, R-5th, of Iowa] does -- on taking that out [the calorie count] and allowing the local school boards and parents [to make those decisions]."
Roe said he signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill on Thursday.
"How utterly ridiculous is it for the person running a school cafeteria to be counting out the number of french fries a child can get?" he asked.
He acknowledged that children are permitted to go back to buy more food. But for some families, he said, that expense is just not in the budget.
"We, rightfully so, worry about obesity in our kids. But it's not happening at school," he said.
In fact, he added, most children only get about 20 to 30 minutes to eat their school lunches.
"Good grief, you'd have to eat with both hands to get obese at school," he added. "It's just more over-reach of government."
CONFIDENT ABOUT ROMNEY
America may not be able to stand that kind of over-reach for another four years, he added.
Despite what many have seen as gaffes in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign over the last couple of weeks, Roe said he remains an ardent supporter of the former Republican governor of Massachusetts.
He also said he is confident that Romney can win the election and turn things around for the nation.
"They're having huge crowds, and if you look at the polls, the polling hasn't changed," he said.
"It's going to be a close race ... I think the debates will have a lot to say about the outcome," Roe added.
"It's really about the direction you think the country should go."