New Menu in Capitol Cafeterias Ruffles Conservative Feathers

The seismic shift so many of us were hoping for after the November 2006 elections hasn't exactly happened, but there's one place where tremors of change are shaking up the conservatives--the cafeterias on Capitol Hill.

As Marion Burros reported in yesterday's New York Times, when Nancy Pelosi became Speaker of da House, replacing that rotund reactionary Dennis Hastert, she imposed an eco-friendly agenda on her Housemates: increased energy efficiency, recycling and composting, and an overhaul of the House cafeterias and food concessions to incorporate more local, organic and healthy options.

Pelosi's initiative, called Green the Capitol, began last month and has been met with predictable resistance from the fossil-fueled fossils who pride themselves on having taken the "conserve" out of the word "conservative."

Restaurant Associates, the company that sources the House's food, ran afowl of Agribiz lobbyists, who clucked their heads off over the fact that the company's website -- which the House dining services website links to -- extolled the virtue of cage-free eggs while highlighting the cruelty of battery cages. Egged on by the egg industry, the company deleted an explanation of why battery cages are inhumane.

The dairy lobbyists took umbrage, too, calling the Green the Capitol complaint line to object to the website's assertion that rBGH has "not been properly tested for safety." Restaurant Associates agreed to water down its statement on that, too.

A weekly agribiz newspaper called Feedstuffs published an editorial accusing Restaurant Associates and Compass group, its parent company, of being "advocates of vegetarianism" who are "hooked on propaganda of animal rights groups."

Others have complained that the new menu is elitist, pretentious, and an egregious misuse of tax payer funds. Granted, mocking sustainable sushi and fair trade coffee is a no-brainer for knee-jerk neo-cons. But it takes real chutzpah for the food lobby to whine about misuse of public funds; the House cafeterias are not--unlike Agribiz-- subsidized by tax payer dollars.

"In fact," as Perry Plumart, the deputy director of Green the Capitol, told the Times, "we make money and Restaurant Associates makes money."

The Senate's cafeterias, by contrast, operate at an annual deficit of $1.3 million. Who pays for that? As of now, there's no plan to "green" them -- or have them operate in the black. That, apparently, would be too progressive.