Commentary #102: “More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules”

Image Credit: Politico

NPR is one of my go-to sources. I’ve written several posts on articles from them. When I read this headline a while ago, I knew I needed to write about it: More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To ‘Simplify’ Obama-Era School Lunch Rules


I also saw this article as a challenge to myself.

I’m not a parent.

I grew up with eating some school lunches, but most of the time I brought food from home, since my mom made big meals that turned into leftovers.

In elementary school, we learned about the food pyramid and how junk food was “bad.”

Since I graduated from high school in 2007, the rules and guidelines around school nutrition have changed. In addition, the United States weathered the worst economic downturn, among other things.

So, I wanted to dive in, do my research, and educate myself. And then share that education with you!


I’m not going to go into the entire history of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), but know that the USDA is the government agency that sets the rules for school nutrition. These rules apply to breakfast and lunch served in U.S. schools.

One of most landmark pieces of legislation on nutrition and schools has been the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It became Public Law on December 13, 2010. It has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on August 5, 2010.

However, at the end of 2018, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced changes. The idea was to give schools “more flexibility in serving meals that kids will eat,” according to another article from NPR published on December 7, 2018.

Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

USDA FNS – Nutrition Standards for School Meals

One of the biggest issues that people have with the new proposal is allowing any entree at any school could be served as an a la carte item for students. This means, if the proposal is made into a final rule, schools can offer pizza and burgers as an option every single day, if they choose. It’s a potential loophole to the previous rules that have mandated balanced school meals.

NOTE: While starting to write this post, I clicked on the link to the proposal from the Food and Nutrition Service on the Federal Register. I couldn’t access the Proposed Rule. There was an Editorial Note in its place, stating, “This document was withdrawn by the Office of the Federal Register because it was inadvertently placed on public inspection. The record will remain on public inspection through the close of business on Wednesday, January 22, 2020.”

This post is nowhere near finished. My research continues!

Book Review #82: “Janesville: An American Story”

This was one of the books I picked up through a generous Barnes and Noble gift card from my parents. I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by non-fiction and human-interest stories. Amy Goldstein was one writer I had not heard of that afternoon in August, but something called to me.

As I started reading, I felt an instant connection because of the setting – Wisconsin. Just the cover alone made me think of the snow-covered hills and woods at my cousin Ryan’s house in Hortonville when we visited in the late 1990s.

But this story is more than that. It’s about multiple families and their take on one thing, one monumental event – The GM plant closing in 2008. What follows is the next five years of how this town of industry claws its way back from the brink, and how so many people were affected by what is now known as the Great Recession.

I liked how Goldstein divided the book by year. It doesn’t always work out well this way, but the way she structured it was solid. Keeping up with the cast of characters was a bit challenging, but it was nice to have a list of them at the beginning, before you even start reading.

One of the biggest takeaways of this book is how large the ripple effect is. It not only affects the workers, it affects the unions, their marriages, their relationships, their families, their political focuses, and more. And still, by the end of the book, Janesville has reached 2013. Have things gotten better? It’s hard to say. Goldstein’s on-the-ground reporting, going deep into Janesville and its people, is amazing research. I could tell she really got to know the people in the book, as well as a sense of the whole community.

Goldstein also attempts to balance the light and dark, so to speak. She looks at the GM workers and those struggling with layoffs and disappearing industry. A few pages later, she ties in Mary, the well-to-do head of the local bank, who is fundraising and trying her best to help others, while she is at the top of the heap in terms of wealth. Goldstein also shines a light on Paul Ryan, other political candidates, and Governor Scott Walker.

As complex as this book is, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I read it. I felt a sense of understanding, but not empathy. In 2008, as the Great Recession was beginning, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I know I come from a family of privilege. My parents only had to worry a handful of times when the government shut down and my dad was furloughed.

That was certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful, heartbreaking, and frustrating as watching your livelihood simply vanish. And trying to keep your house. Keeping your marriage and family together. Watching your teenage kids work one, two, three jobs to help out. Sometimes losing loved ones entirely, whether it was health issues brought on by stress, or not finding a way out other than wanting to end your life.

Website: amygoldsteinwriter.com

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #91: “Appalachia has a new story to tell, and it’s not an elegy” (Editorial)

Ridgeview High School Robotics Team

This is the championship Ridgeview High School robotics team from Southwest Virginia. Way to go! Image Credit: Dickenson County Public Schools

This was a fascinating editorial that one of my good friends, Mr. Lin, shared on Facebook a while ago. Mr. Lin used to be a teacher at my local elementary school, but has since created an impressive career in school administration. He has been an assistant principal and a principal in the Roanoke County Schools, Floyd County Schools, and now in Pennsylvania.

Here’s the link to the original post:


On The Roanoke Times’ website, the caption with the photo I used states: “The first team from Ridgeview High School in Dickenson County to win a state championship was its robotic team in 2018. That team went on to the world championship in Detroit, where it placed 9th out of 64 teams. Our editorial at left looks at how J.D. Vance’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ perpetuates negative stereotypes of Appalachia. There’s a different story the region ought to tell, and the engineering skills of students in one of the state’s most rural localities ought to be part of that new narrative.”

Every time I read something new about Appalachia, whether it’s an editorial or not, I always learn new things or discover something different. This editorial was no exception.


When I first heard about Hillbilly Elegy on NPR’s Fresh Air, I was immediately intrigued. I kept telling myself I was going to read it, but here we are, in July 2019, and I haven’t read it yet. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I didn’t realize Ron Howard is planning to make a movie about the memoir, either. I admire Howard immensely. However, I’m hesitant to see it, whenever it is released. I don’t appreciate negative stereotypes, whether they’re implied or not.


Maybe my feathers are ruffled because of my own Appalachian “history.” Much of my mom’s extended family hails from West Virginia. I have fond memories of many family reunions in Ripley and Beckley. I loved visiting my great-grandmother, Laura Bethany Powers, whom I am named after. She lived to be 102!

In addition, I started researching Appalachia on my own in high school and throughout college.

This editorial opened my eyes to the progress that has been made and seen in Southwest Virginia. Since it is the Roanoke newspaper, I understand why they focused on their own region. Still, seeing the positive statistics made me happy, and hopeful.


I still plan to read Hillbilly Elegy, eventually. I have another 15 or so books I want to read first.

But, after I read Hillbilly Elegy, I’ll likely look up the other two books that were mentioned in the editorial:

  1. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, by Elizabeth Catte
  2. Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, a collection of essays by scholars and community activists in the region, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll

I found one other part of the editorial to be striking:

“Given all this talent, technology companies ought to be competing to locate in Appalachia, not acting as if it didn’t even exist. These are the stories we need to be telling the world — that we are a topographically-challenged and economically-challenged part of the country that is populated by smart, hard-working people.”

An interesting thought, and that needs to be explored much further.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #90: “9-year-old boy raises nearly $80K to give bulletproof vests to police K-9s”

I stumbled upon this story on Facebook recently. Way to go, Brady!

Here’s the link to the post from my local news station:


In Ohio, the local news has been following Brady Snakovsky for nearly a year now. At that point, in November 2018, Brady had raised enough money to donate more than 50 vests to K-9s in nine states. That’s incredible!

Picture

Image Credit: Brady’s K-9 Fund

Bulletproof vests for police K-9s can cost more than $1,000. Brady got the idea when he and his mom were watching an episode of “Live PD,” where a K-9 did not have a bulletproof vest. With his mom’s help, Brady started a GoFundMe.

As of June 2, 2019, Brady has raised enough money to donate 85 vests. Currently, there’s a waiting list of 57 officers whose K-9s need the vests.

Now, Brady’s K-9 Fund is officially a non-profit organization.


The most recent dogs to be vested are K9 Mike, K9 Lemm, and K9 Hoss. They all serve with the MTA Police in New York City.

Other dogs have been vested in Ohio, Connecticut, California, and South Carolina.

I think Brady is an awesome kid! I’m so happy he was inspired to help these amazing dogs, his mom was willing to help him get started, and how his message has spread. Way to go, Brady!


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #72: “Columbine” *Re-Read*

I try my hardest to post Book Reviews within 24-48 hours after finishing the book. However, life has been pretty hectic recently. I finished Columbine in mid-April, just after the acknowledgment of it being 20 years since the tragedy. I’m just now posting my review.

I have a special connection with this book. The author, Dave Cullen, came to Longwood in the spring of 2010 as a guest lecturer. I was able to interview him for an article I wrote for the student newspaper, The Rotunda. He graciously signed my copy when I bought it at his lecture. It was strange, reading his message from March 17, 2010. That feels like a lifetime ago!

I’m glad I re-read this book. I remember how I felt after I read it the first time. Part of me wishes I’d re-read it before now, before nine years had passed. However, I still felt similar emotions as I did the first time.

I have to give major props to Cullen on his research and dedication to this book. This is one of the best accounts I’ve read of the events that occurred on April 20, 1999. And Cullen goes deeper than that. He covers the massacre, but also delves into the lives of the shooters, their families, and survivors.

It’s not perfect, but as someone who originally read memoir-style books such as The Journals of Rachel Scott: A Journey of Faith at Columbine High and She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall years ago, when the tragedy was still relatively fresh (I was almost 10 when it occurred), I appreciate the time and effort Cullen devoted to this book.

If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. Cullen makes it clear that he is a journalist first, and it’s evident throughout. His amount of sources is simply incredible. It’s very dense, and tough to read, but it’s an important work. I’m glad Cullen devoted many years to writing this book.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Commentary #89: “He’s a disabled Gulf War veteran with a new purpose: Save birds nearly wiped out by pesticides”

Injured veteran finds purpose

Vallieres shows an owl to a veteran during a demonstration at the New Hampshire Veterans Home. Found on CNN.

Around the middle of April, I stumbled upon a fascinating headline whilst browsing CNN.com, as I do nearly every day:


Robert Vallieres served our country. He came home from the Gulf War broken, and nearly died. He’s battled a traumatic brain injury (TBI), chemical exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other things.

However, he’s channeled his recovery into volunteering with the New Hampshire Audubon Society.

He’s helping to track and rehabilitate peregrine falcons and bald eagles.


What started it all? His son, who was three at the time. He asked his dad what type of bird he saw. Vallieres bought a bird identification book, binoculars, and they started learning together near their home in Concord, New Hampshire.

In the newspaper, he saw an ad for a birding trip in the state’s White Mountains. He signed up. What stunned him was when a falcon grabbed a bird in mid-air. And it helped him appreciate and enjoy the outdoors – Using all your senses.

Unable to work, the New Hampshire Audubon Society was looking for volunteers to count and track peregrine falcons and bald eagles. Both were nearly wiped off the map due to the pesticide DDT, now banned, which killed unhatched chicks in the 1960s.

The New Hampshire Audubon Society was thrilled to have Robert come on boarding. With his military training, a lot of the same skills applied to counting and tracking these birds.

“Finding rhythm or purpose in life besides myself,” says Vallieres, “Not to get stuck on myself, to have an outlet and be semi-physically fit.”


In addition to volunteering, Robert built a nesting box for kestrel falcons in his yard. It worked. He now has breeding pairs.

He also works to rehabilitate birds for Wings of Dawn, a local wildlife hospital.

He also takes birds to the New Hampshire Veterans Home monthly. The home was so impressed with Robert that they applied for and received a grant to get dozens of binoculars for residents to observe the birds on the property. They also purchased more bird feeders so the less-mobile residents can experience the visitors.

He still struggles with migraines and painful scar tissue. Seeing birds take flight, however, helps him lift his own wings.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth

Book Review #71: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America” *Re-Read*

Nickel and Dimed

Image Credit: Goodreads

When I initially read this book, it was assigned reading for one of my very first college classes. I can’t remember which one, but this book left a profound impact on me. Slowly, I started reading more from Barbara Ehrenreich. However, this is the book that started it all.

I started college in the fall of 2007, about a year before the financial crisis that began in 2008. I believe I was assigned to read this book at a poignant time. I also believe I’m re-reading this book at another poignant time, at the beginning of 2019.

Going into re-reading this, I realized my copy of the book was updated with a new afterword, published in 2008. However, the overall concept – Studying low-wage jobs and attempting to understand their socioeconomic impacts – is nothing new. That’s part of the reason I was drawn to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City.

Ehrenreich embarked on an experiment in 1998 – Trying to see if she, as a single, middle-aged woman, could survive as a waitress, a cleaner (hotel maid and house cleaner), a nursing home aide, and a seller / retail associate for a month, in three different cities. Each chapter explores a different type of job and a different city. She quickly realized the challenges with each one, and each city presented its own obstacles with housing, food, and assistance. Along the way, she met a variety of people working these jobs. A few were fortunate, but many were barely making ends meet. Several were working 2-3 jobs full-time, and still struggling with their incomes and their partner’s / spouse’s income(s) as well.

I won’t spoil anything, but she learns many lessons along the way. She discovers multiple issues with affordable housing, child care costs, fast food, health care, education, and the way these companies treat their employees.

I got a bit lost with the footnotes, statistics, and percentages, and glossed over a few of them toward the end. However, reading the updated afterword was important, and appreciated. This country has a lot to learn, still, in 2019. We need to treat employees, especially those earning the absolute minimum, better.

Overall, I’m glad I took the time to re-read this book. It’s a bit “dated” now, since Ehrenreich’s experiment started and concluded 21 years ago. However, it’s still relevant in many aspects today. And, like her, I’m grateful for everything I’ve had and worked for. This is a valuable book that will stay on my bookshelf forever.

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂