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Secretary of Education and Secretary of Navy in Food Fight over Gulf Fish

By Jonathan Tilove
Washington bureau
Times Picayune
Dec. 7, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who doubles as President Barack Obama's point man on Gulf Coast oil spill recovery, is pressing America's armed services to consume as much Gulf seafood as possible.

Navy Capt. Beci Brenton said Monday that Mabus has talked with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the secretaries of the Air Force and Army, and his staff has talked to the Defense Commissary Agency, which operates a worldwide chain of stores for military personnel, making the point "that we should be buying Gulf Coast seafood."

Special Eggplant Report: News Before it Happens

New Orleans-- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new Department initiative to turn America's schoolchildren on to fish. "The US taxpayer spent $9.8 billion on the National School Lunch Program in 2009. . . but only $49.72 on fish. Look at the test scores of Finnish children. We can't afford to continue to feed our kids pizza while children in Finland children are eating herring!

Joining Duncan at the podium was Melinda Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to report on the findings from a $63 million research study financed by the foundation and conducted by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Ms Gates reported that US students in low-scoring schools eat fewer fish per capita than students in Finland or China. "We know how well Finnish children do on international tests, and now we have research proving that the proof is not in the pudding but in the fish. The average Finn eats 98.4 pounds of fish per year. Seafood consumption in China was 60 pounds per capita in 2004 and is expected to reach 86.4 pounds per capita in 2020."

"The Chinese are catching up to the Finns," said Melinda Gates. "And where are we? The average American 14 year old living in poverty consumes only 5 pounds of fish a year. It is no wonder that America's 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math."

Melinda Gates then announced a collaboration with the Department of Education. "We are pleased to support the establishment of the Office of Fish Fulfillment at the US Department of Education. Of course, the Secretary will establish policy. We're just here to lend support in stressing the importance of increasing fish consumption and competitiveness among today's US future workers in the global economy."

Duncan continued,"Thanks, Melinda. Your foundation represents the best spirit in America. And I know you care deeply about this issue. If our youth can't go to Afghanistan to eat the Gulf fish-テャテつ「テδッテつソテつステδッテつソテつスbecause they are unfit to enlist in the military, we must feed them fish here at home. I pledge to put Gulf seafood on the lunch plate of every schoolchild in America. The US doesn't need to ship that seafood overseas. We have 49,293,000 million public school children right here who can eat that seafood."

Asked about the problem of an unknown quantity of Gulf seafood being tainted with oil and/or dispersant, Duncan said, "BP took care of that problem."

Following up on this announcement, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman noted, "In an age when we have to compete for jobs with low-wage but high-skilled Chinese, we canテャテつ「テδッテつソテつステδッテつソテつスt afford to have our kids keep eating pizza. Responding to this crisis will require a whole new hybrid politics for school menu planning--where to cut, where to invest. School meals are not war. It can be win-win. Itテャテつ「テδッテつソテつステδッテつソテつスs good for the world if China is doing better. But it canテャテつ「テδッテつソテつステδッテつソテつスt be good for America if every time we come to a hard choice our schoolchildren choose pizza instead of fish. Bring on the halibut!"

White House insiders predict that Duncan will wait until the Chicago mayoral primaries are over before appointing a fish chief --in case Ron Emanuel needs a job.

— Susan Ohanian
The Eggplant



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