There could be changes ahead in the menus at cafeterias in state-owned buildings.
Democrats in the Iowa Senate have voted to create task forces that would draft new standards for cafeteria food at the statehouse and in the campus cafeterias at the three state universities and at all the community colleges. Senator Janet Petersen, a Democrat from Des Moines, suggests the idea comes from Republican Governor Terry Branstad.
“During the American Heart Association’s ‘Heart Ball’ last year, Governor Branstad gave a speech letting hundreds of volunteers know that the State of Iowa would take the lead in eating healthy by starting in our own cafeterias,” Petersen says. “I agree with Governor Branstad on this goal and this legislation will help get the process rolling.”
The bill calls for using American Heart Association dietary guidelines to develop new cafeteria menus.
“The State of Iowa should take the lead in the nutritional quality of the foods we serve to thousands of Iowans every day, including 17,000 state employees working at state agencies across the state, more than 72,000 attending our public universities, more than 106, 000 students taking classes at our state’s community colleges,” Petersen says. “Eating healthy improves workplace performance and decreases the financial impact of diseases related to a poor diet.”
Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, questions why Democrats aren’t asking Iowans who get government food stamps to comply with the same dietary guidelines.
“If it’s good for our cafeterias and good for our Regents institutions and our community colleges, perhaps it should be good, also, for those who are receiving food assistance,” Ernst says.
And Ernst points out legislators themselves aren’t exactly paragons of dietary virtue, as a variety of sugary treats are easy to find in the senate.
“We had some really wonderful little Oreo balls, you know, covered in chocolate. Fantastic! I love those,” Ernst says. “And every time we have a birthday, boy, we bring in goodies, so, you know, we may be preaching, but we’re not really practicing.”
Ernst says she believes in heathy living, but the state shouldn’t be dictating to people what they can and cannot eat.
“I have a candy jar on my own desk — shame on me, I guess — full of Tootsie Rolls, but I was getting low so I thought, ‘What the heck, we’ll go for some Snickers,'” Ernst says. “And the American Heart Association in their guidelines, discretionary sugars (or calories) for a female: 100.”
Ernst says that means she can eat just two of her bite-size Snickers to abide by that limit. Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, says he was recently told his cholesterol levels were high.
“I asked the doctor what I could do and he recommended strongly that I drink red wine and so I just want to make sure that we understand that there are lots of things out there that are healthy for us, that help us live longer lives and that the Heart Association promotes and suggests,” Chelgren says. “It doesn’t mean we should be serving all of those in our cafeterias, though.”
Petersen says in a state with “obesity issues,” the proposal seems reasonable.
“I think this is a great first step in helping Iowans eat healthier by starting with our own state and our own state cafeterias and our universities and community colleges,” Petersen says.
The bill that passed the Senate last week also calls for finding ways to ensure more locally produced food and beverages is served in the cafeterias in state-owned buildings.