Texas Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller is looking to put an end to a decade-long ban on soda machines and deep fryers in public school cafeterias in the state, arguing that such a decision should be at the discretion of local schools rather than by state regulators.
Miller suggested the move earlier this year along with five other changes he would like to see made to the Texas School Nutrition Policy.
"We're all about what our country was founded on — we're about giving our school districts freedom, liberty and individual responsibility," Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said.
The proposal has caused a debate in Texas, with 105 people or groups writing to the agricultural department to share their concerns, and only 8 people or groups writing in support of it, writes Liz Klimas for The Blaze.
Former agricultural commissioner Susan Combs wrote an op-ed for the Houston Chronicle, saying she was "mystified by what is driving this effort."
"In Texas, the Department of Agriculture is the agency charged with enforcing school nutrition standards, so it defies logic when the agency decides our kids need more sugary drinks and fried foods at school," Combs wrote. "The only people I can see benefitting from the proposed rules are the big business food and soda suppliers."
Students across the state are also voicing their concerns over the proposal. Fifth-grader Austin Thorpe, who attends Doss Elementary School in Austin, which focuses on eating healthy, said "all those oils are definitely not good for you on a daily basis." Third-grader Sarah Garrett added, "Fried foods, I think, are more of a treat. And if they had them a lot, I don't think it'd be as much of a treat as it is," she says.
Earlier this year, Miller also put an end to a 10-year ban on cupcakes and other sweets, saying he was not promoting eating sweets, but merely implementing local control and parental rights, saying, "Texas will no longer keep you from bringing cupcakes to your parties and celebrations at your schools."
In order for schools in Texas to receive federal funding for lunch programs, a set of nutrition standards must be met, which includes placing a limit on sugary drinks consumed at school. Sara Sweitzer, a dietician with the University of Texas, Austin, said it was highly unlikely that schools would give up that funding, reports Kate McGee for NPR.
Miller maintains that the change would not require schools to offer the treats, but give them the option to do so. "The school districts that disagree with my decision don't get a deep fryer," he says. Miller went on to say that parents would not be required to bring in cupcakes. "It's not about cupcakes — it's about freedom and liberty," Miller says.
The proposal to put an end to the deep fryer ban is currently under public comment review, but the final decision rests with Miller.
Around one-third of children in the state between the ages of 10 and 17 are considered to be overweight or obese.