The proposed food restrictions for school lunch continue to be of concern to me and to the growers of Maine potatoes.

Many have expressed dismay regarding the limitation of “starchy” vegetables to two servings, or one total cup, per week at lunch and eliminating starchy vegetables at breakfast. The first vegetable that comes to mind for many are potatoes, as many forms of potatoes are served in school lunch rooms.

However, it may surprise many parents who are conscientious about feeding their children healthy, nutritious foods that a number of other healthy common vegetables are on this list. For example, corn, peas, some squashes, lima beans and water chestnuts, as well as potatoes, are all considered starchy vegetables.

Potatoes are one of the few vegetables that children actually consume, and cooked potatoes are the most common vegetable consumed by the National School Lunch Program participants.

Limiting access to vegetables at lunch and eliminating them from breakfast will significantly lower vegetable consumption among these children. As the only vegetable consumed at breakfast, potatoes provide children with valuable nutrients throughout the day.

I often find people are not educated about the nutritious benefits of potatoes. When compared to a “healthy” food, like a banana, many people may not be aware that one medium-sized potato has the same calories and fiber content (110 calories, 3 grams of fiber).

Also like a banana, potatoes have no fat, sodium or cholesterol. Potatoes have more potassium than bananas, and unlike bananas, potatoes contain foliate and other healthy B vitamins as well as 45 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C. Potatoes contain less natural sugars than bananas.

There are many ways to prepare potatoes that provide healthy nutrients for children.

Brandon Roope

President, Maine Potato Board

Presque Isle

For being a doctor, Dr. Jonathan Shenkin seems willing to ignore scientific facts that contradict his anti-potato opinions (“Snowe, Collins standing in the wasy of better nutrition in schools,” Sept. 6).

For example, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own 2010 Dietary Guidelines, inadequate potassium intake can result in long-term health consequences, including hypertension and stroke.

Since students are not currently meeting their potassium requirements, as a pediatric dentist, Dr. Shenkin should be advocating for increased potassium consumption, not the virtual elimination of potassium-rich foods, like potatoes, as USDA is proposing.

The fact is, potatoes provide a cost-efficient delivery of key nutrients to Maine’s students. One serving of oven-baked french fries provides more potassium than a banana and as much fiber (another “nutrient of concern”) as spinach, all while costing less than 5 cents.

And since the vast majority of our school cafeterias are now preparing potatoes by baking, mashing and broiling instead of frying, students are consuming less sodium, fat and calories than previously.

Dr. Shenkin also assumes that potatoes “crowd out” other vegetables from the lunch tray. Exactly the opposite is true. Researchers at the University of Washington recently found that children who eat potatoes at lunch actually consume more servings of vegetables.

USDA should listen to school food service personnel who say its plans to limit the amount of potatoes and other “starchy vegetables” to one cup per week will backfire. A majority of school food service professionals responding to a recent National Potato Council survey said that USDA’s new regulations will drive up lunchroom costs and plate waste, while doing nothing for student health.

Nutritional meals and food kids enjoy don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Replacing potatoes with more expensive vegetables that students don’t want will do little but generate more garbage. It’s great to know Maine’s senators understand that USDA’s proposed regulations fly in the face of this common sense.

Donald Flannery

Presque Isle

Childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing and Maine lawmakers are looking to our food system. But the real battle isn’t about Maine’s small potato farmer.

The government spends billions of taxpayer dollars every year subsidizing obesity. In fact, every time I enter the grocery store I can’t help but wonder: Why are Twinkies cheaper than potatoes?

An important reason is because the government spends billions of dollars helping Big Agribusiness and subsidizing commodity crops that are used to make high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils, making junk food artificially cheap.

Call your representatives right now and tell them to stop funding these harmful and wasteful subsidies. They are harming our children and wasting taxpayer money.

Ilya Slavinski

US PIRG, Federal Field Associate

Portland

MMC screening program could reduce infections

I just sent off a congratulatory letter to the Maine Medical Center board of directors chairman regarding the board’s decision to screen all patients for MRSA and VRE, two serious and prevalent hospital-acquired infections.

The final decision was up to MMC leadership, but the desire and drive came from the staff, and it was their wish to do this. This is an example of MMC’s respect for the opinion of their staff and their high regard for patients and their health care outcomes.

Measures can be taken to avoid active infections, and to prevent spread of the disease in the hospital. Excellent prevention starts with a simple cheap screening test and awareness of the results.

MMC’s giant step in prevention will undoubtedly lead them closer to its goals for safer, higher quality care and good health care outcomes. I believe that MMC will succeed with this endeavor and that they will lead EMMC and all the other Maine hospitals to similar success. Lives and livelihoods will be saved.

Preventable medical errors and hospital acquired infections are never intentional, but if hospitals keep doing the same things that have not worked in the past, instead of practicing more and better prevention, that is just not acceptable. Most hospital-acquired infections are preventable.

As a patient safety and MRSA activist, I wish MMC luck in getting to zero hospital acquired MRSA and VRE infections, and all other infections. They are setting a tremendous example with their work.

Kathy Day, R.N.

Bangor

Maine no place to help sick elephant get better

I was saddened to read the story in the Aug. 28 Sunday Telegram about Jim Laurita’s plan to move an aging female elephant named Rosie to Maine. He intends to keep her in a heated barn and a 1-acre paddock. He says, “She’s going to receive treatment that she couldn’t receive anyplace else.”

But the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has offered to take Rosie. Its facility is designed specifically for old, sick and needy elephants who have been retired from zoos and circuses.

Rosie would receive veterinary care from a team of specialists in elephant ailments. She would have access to 2,700 acres of space to finally get to live the life she was meant to live. Mr. Laurita should reconsider the Elephant Sanctuary’s offer.

Mr. Laurita speaks of wanting to educate children about the plight of elephants in Africa. Children need to understand the plight of elephants in circuses and zoos in our own country. Their treatment is so much more inhumane than the threat of poachers in the wild.

I encourage all the schools in Maine to take “Let’s Keep Rosie Out of Maine” as a fall school project.

If we can accomplish that, we’ve saved Rosie from spending the remainder of her life in total isolation in a space that is just not adequate for an animal her size.

Sandra Paul

South Portland