At Fargo Davies High School in Fargo the students have a top-notch culinary class which runs, on a limited scale, a restaurant for students and the public. They were just profiled in the Fargo Forum, as a matter of fact.
But recently these students learned that they were going to have to curtail their cooking excellence. According to the USDA, because these students are serving other students, what they’re serving have to fall under the strict and controversial nutritional guidelines set by the USDA (read them here courtesy of DPI).
“Our food director got a call saying they weren’t following guidelines,” Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz told me in a phone interview yesterday. He said the call came after the article in the Forum.
I spoke with Department of Public Instruction spokesman Dale Wetzel as well who confirmed that the guidelines apply. “The student-run restaurant at Fargo Davies, and another one that is opening shortly at Fargo South, both have to comply with the new, stricter USDA nutrition rules that affect calorie counts, sodium content, etc. because they sell food to students,” he told me via email. “This does not mean the restaurants can’t operate, but they have to do their menu planning within the boundaries of these nutrition rules.”
The problem is, as most people recognize, the nutrition rules suck (if I may put it bluntly). And since one of the initiatives these students have started is marketing their services to the businesses for lunch service, it’s hard to see how they’re going to be successful.
Congressman Kevin Cramer, who got wind of the situation and has (alongside Senator John Hoeven) been an outspoken critic of the USDA’s nutrition guidelines, isn’t pleased. “This is what is wrong with Washington, D.C.,” he said in a press release. “Instead of supporting and working with students running these restaurants they plan to penalize them with needless regulations. Students are getting real world experience in running a business and preparing meals for customers.”
Cramer is a sponsor of the Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act which give schools more leeway on nutrition standards.
But back to the students, Schatz echoed Wetzel in saying that the culinary classes aren’t going to be shut down. He said school officials are going to figure out a way for the students to work within the guidelines. But still, it’s hard to imagine students getting much of an education in the culinary arts while saddled with the federal government’s absurd nutrition regulations.