Chobani Greek Yogurt; Photo Courtesy: Associated Press
By Brian Tumulty
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Monday may mark the first the Inauguration Day that Greek yogurt is served at the U.S. Capitol.
The chairman of this year's Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies is Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, an unabashed supporter of upstate New York's flourishing Greek yogurt industry.
Schumer has leveraged his position to arrange have New York-made Chobani and Fage Total Greek Yogurt placed in areas inside the Capitol where President Barack Obama and inaugural VIPs will gather Monday morning as they wait for their cue to proceed outdoors to the West Front for the formal inauguration ceremony. Granola and fruit will be available as toppings.
Although such promotional efforts might appear innocuous, the lobbying on behalf of Greek yogurt isn't.
Schumer began urging the Agriculture Department last June to update its federal school lunch program guide to reflect Greek yogurt's protein content - more than twice that of regular yogurt.
Greek yogurt is more expensive than regular yogurt, so the revision would make the Greek variety more affordable for school districts to purchase.
Agriculture officials have not yet made the requested revision.
Five other members of Congress - three from Idaho and two from New York - announced Thursday they've sent a similar request to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The group includes Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and four Republicans - Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch, New York Rep. Richard Hanna and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson.
The Idaho lawmakers joined the lobbying effort for Greek yogurt after New York-based Chobani opened the world's largest Greek yogurt factory in Idaho last month.
The letter from the five lawmakers notes that the National School Lunch and National School Breakfast Programs served meals to more than 31 million students a day in 2011.
"We believe that our states are ideal locations to demonstrate the many benefits that can be gained by crediting Greek yogurt in children nutrition programs in a fashion that reflects its protein content,'' the lawmakers wrote.
They suggested a federal pilot program for Idaho and New York that would "free the creativity of school nutrition professionals to deliver enhanced nutrition at lower cost.''