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by Slow Food USA intern Jocelynne Tan

The Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization this fall, which means Congress will be debating whether it can afford to provide kids with food that benefits their health. This is a worthwhile time to examine the lunch that Congress eats everyday.

In March 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began a “Green the Capitol” initiative, aiming not only to transform the nation’s legislative buildings into more environmentally friendly landmarks but also to overhaul the House of Representatives’ cafeterias. Her efforts have led to the House cafeterias making the switch to more organic, local, and healthy offerings at lunch time. Typical fare on offer includes salad bars, stir fry, taqueria, paninis, sushi, and in the restaurants, more gourmet items, such as roast beef with mushrooms and glazed rockfish. These dishes have not replaced old favorites like pizza, fries, or chicken fingers, but even the classics have been revamped so as not to include trans fats, and the entire menu is geared towards being fresh, local, and sustainable.

Similar efforts were made in the Senate in 2008 by Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was in charge of the committee that oversaw the funds that paid for the Senate cafeterias. Unlike the Senate eateries, which were, until recently, government-run, the House cafeterias have been privatized since the 1980s. Restaurant Associates of New York is the current House contractor and has been so efficient in catering to hungry House staffers that it has been able to turn an annual profit since 2003, with the most recent figure cited being $1.2 million. These profits are directed as commission to the House. For those who worry that taxpayers are footing the bill for these “elite foods,” Perry Plumart, deputy director of the House’s environmental effort, has been quoted as saying, “The cafeterias are not subsidized…In fact, we make money and Restaurant Associates makes money.”