Using her self-dubbed “big Sicilian mouth,” celebrity chef Rachael Ray asked Congress Tuesday to cough up more money for school lunches.

“How could you go to any state in the union and say you are not for an extra couple of cents to eradicate hunger, to make our kids healthier, stronger, better focused? It doesn’t make any sense that you would even have to have a long conversation about that, to me,” Ray told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

school-lunch-reform-featured.jpgLegislation pending in the Senate would increase the reimbursement rate for school nutrition programs by 6 cents per lunch (from $2.68 to $2.74).

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who serves on the Agriculture Committee overseeing the Child Nutrition Act–which is only up for reauthorization every five years–believe that the increase should be 70 cents. Most school lunch advocates, including Ray, agree–and some are more ambitious, asking for a 1 dollar boost to ensure fresh fruits and vegetables on every plate.

The current boost–an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years–is about half of what the Obama administration asked for in the FY2010 budget request.

Ray told The New York Times she finds the more modest increase in the legislation “ridiculous.”

“I feel very strongly that either you pay now or you’re going to pay later,” Ray said. “We’ve just had this horrible, bloody battle about health care–think about the health care costs of the future if we don’t address this immediately.”

“Find the money now and get it done or you are going to be part of sinking our ship down the line,” Ray reportedly told members of Congress Tuesday.

The reauthorization and food safety

As we reported in March, the school nutrition bill Ray and other school food and health advocates are trying to beef up contains very minor food safety provisions. According to Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) food safety attorney Sarah Klein, the bill extends HACCP requirements to the entire school campus and extends the requirement for food safety audits through 2010.

Senator Gillibrand, who has become an increasingly vocal advocate for more stringent food safety laws, also succeed in getting some stronger language added to the managers amendment to improve recall procedures and recall effectiveness checks.

“We’re thrilled to see food safety addressed in the Senate bill, and appreciate all Senator Gillibrand’s hard work on making food safety in schools a top priority,” said Klein, adding that she and other food safety advocates are still pushing to get even stronger, more specific language added to the final bill.