Dear USDA,

I love writing letters and own a ton of stationery. I write to friends, family and my representatives (though since having a kid and doing the blog, a lot less frequently). So I decided to compose a thoughtful note to the Secretary of Agriculture. I plan on dropping it in the mail on Tuesday (no mail on Monday in case you were wondering). If you see any typos, please let me know…

PS. Earlier on in the project I wrote a handwritten letter to First Lady Obama, but I never heard anything. Not surprising considering her workload.

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19 thoughts on “Dear USDA,

  1. Love it. But I would also include the impact these horrid lunches have on students' abilities to concentrate and focus on their schoolwork. The state of school lunch is deplorable.

  2. Wonderful letter!

    Also, on the subject of USDA standards, I was wondering are there different standards by school level (elementary, middle, high)? It would seem to make sense that 1st, 7th or 11th graders shouldn't need the same amounts of food.

  3. Good job! If you hear back, I am sure he will tell you that the school lunch served meets the nutritional guidelines blah blah blah. That is what we heard when we met with the head of our school district's lunch department. We told them it is also the PERCEPTION that these foods are a good choice. Kids don't know that the "Fruit Pocket" served for breakfast is "better" for them than a Hostess fruit pie.
    Keep up the good work Mrs. Q!

  4. The are standards pending. The were developed by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Institutes of Science, at the behest of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and submitted for consideration last October. They set minimum and maximum calorie levels, restrict salt, raise allowable fat and increase portion sizes of vegetables–espcially leafy greens and orange vegetables. They make fruits and vegetables less interchangable. And yes, they do set different portion sizes and calorie limits according to age groups. One down-side: no regulation of sugar in meals. But it could be years before these standards are implimented. One problem: they would raise the price of meals, and schools don't have the money.

    The best hope for change would be the re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act, currently pending before Congress, which would, for the first time, give the secretary of agriculture authority to remove junk food from schools.

  5. Great letter! I would make one suggestion. In the sentence below, I would suggest you change "mind" to "consider" and add a question mark.

    As school districts across the country reevaluate class sizes and policies, I wonder if the USDA would mind reviewing the standards for school lunch.

    Would love to hear if/when you get a response.

  6. I don't think a question mark is needed at the end of that sentance, since you are stating that you are wondering something, not asking something outright.

  7. tom vilsack is from where i live and he's a great person to talk to about nutrition if you get the chance

  8. Oh did I miss the letter to the First Lady Michele Obama? But never underestimate the power of the first ladies. That is where we got the warning labels on music from. Tipper Gore a vice president's wife.

    Hopefully Tom Visack or anyone from USDA will read this letter.

  9. Thanks! Mr. Vilsack has a nice face if you see any pictures of him. Additionally, my letter to the First Lady was handwritten and I didn't snap a picture of it.

    Happy Fourth!

  10. It's not a part of your letter, but part of your blog post.

    StationAry: to stay still
    StationEry: paper on which one writes letters

    You used the wrong one at the top of your post.

  11. For a business letter, you want a colon following the greeting in place of a comma. Commas after the greeting are for letters to personal friends and family only.

    “I’m Mrs. Q and I’m eating school lunch…”

    “so are frozen juice bars and they discover that tater tots”

    Both need a comma before “and.” Also, if you delete “that” wherever it’s found, the repeated and unnecessary word won’t become distracting. Then again, this may only be so for me since it’s something of a pet peeve after having to slash thousands of them out of newspaper articles, sales presentations, and radio ads.

    “no limits to sugar or sodium”

    The word “to” should be either “on” or “for.”

    “able to say honestly, “we are not contributing to the epidemic”

    “We” needs to be capitalized.

    I agree with Andrea about changing "mind" to "consider." It has a more professional, less personal ring to it, and subsequently makes the reader take the letter a tad more seriously.

  12. I wonder if Mrs. Obama would be interested in getting a copy of your letter, since her "cause" is childhood obesity. She surely would be interested in your blog…

  13. I think the letter is fine, the only thing is the last sentence: Save the stamp and email me at the below address.
    It sounds more like a demand as opposed to a friendly request for someone you'd truly like to hear back from and take you seriously. .

  14. Wonderful words! We stopped letting our kids eat at the school altogether near the end of last school year, and will continue sending them to school with actual food again when school begins in August.

  15. Bravo, Mrs Q! I absolutely loved what you said and how you focused on the need to educate our youth about proper eating. That argument is SO powerful coming from a teacher – especially one with the kind of experience with school food that you have had. Great great great letter!

  16. Great letter!

    I have done some lobby work both on Capitol Hill and in my state (in my previous work life) and know that hard copy letters are very difficult to be received by federal staffers. It takes about 4 weeks plus to even get to them–since the anthrax scares there has been increased screening of letters. Some letters never even make it to their destination. Most federal offices STRONGLY prefer e-mails instead of hard copy letters for these reasons. So, despite the great stationery, I strongly recommend you send this as an e-mail to Secretary Vilsack's office if you actually want it seen by anyone in the near future.

    Also, I know you don't feel secure sharing your name and location on the blog, but for this letter, I think you should share it with Secretary Vilsack's office. Anonymous letters are not well received by government officials because of terroristic threats. Now, I know that's not where you're coming from, of course, but my guess is that an anonymous, hard copy letter will be screened out and never delivered. Federal officials/staffers want to hear from "real" people w/ "real" names in "real" locations. And, they are likewise scared of "anonymous" anyones. My best guess is that may be the reason you haven't heard back from Mrs. Obama (if she even got the letter at all).

    Again, great letter! And, you're doing great work, but if you want this message to reach the Secretary then I recommend (a) e-mail; and (b) include your name and location.

    So, that's my two cents for what it's worth! 🙂

  17. Another couple of thoughts. . .check out It gives you e-mail contact info for all government agencies. It's sort of a portal to all government offices. There's an e-mail directly to the Secretary's office.

    The other beauty of e-mailing the letter is that you can e-mail it to multiple agencies. I would consider sending it to Dept of Education also. And, you could also copy Mrs. Obama (or the President for that matter and maybe your member of Congress) also. Something to think about.

  18. I disagree — First Ladies can have a lot of impact. Lady Bird Johnson as an advocate for beautification of the nation's cities and highways and conservation of natural resources was inspirational to a generation of conservationists and environmentalists. And Betty Ford raised awareness of breast cancer by talking openly about her mastectomy. And did the same with the Betty Ford Clinic for substance abuse. Mrs. Obama surely can have an impact on childhood obesity — it just might not be apparent until she is out of the White House.

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