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Don’t Underestimate the Force…

Like Sly and the Revolutionaries said, …”the force is within you.” 

Sly and the Revolutionaries

To put it plainly, school lunches, especially those provided to poor students at no cost, are a way to use surplus agricultural commodities and to support commercial interests.   The new Child Nutrition Act tackles these concerns and begins the process of school-lunch revolution.  And this is not just a governmental matter; there are many of us who invest our own time on the elementary level to push for these changes. 

Take Mrs. Q.  She  has decided to blog about her experiences eating school lunch right along with her students for every meal in 2010.  The goal is to educate and reflect upon the food served to the kids.  Most school kitchens are merely tables with microwaves, with upwards of 95% of all food being delivered frozen, so I applaud her efforts to sit right down and eat the mystery meat.  

Meatloaf?

Together with a lack of equipment, training, and resources, many schools are trying to do the best they can on a paltry $0.90 – $2.68 a day to spend on food per child.  These obstacles come up for debate and discussion every five years in the Child Nutrition Act, along with methods for providing free and reduced-cost meals for low-income students.  Although the increase pushed by food reformers this year will be about $.06 instead of the $1.00 that was hoped, there is “at least $40 million … available for farm-to-school programs and school gardens. Another $10 million will go toward pilot programs intended to add organic food. And millions more have been added to train cafeteria staff members.” (According to the NY Times).  For the first time ever, consideration is being taken for calorie count and sodium levels.  This is the most important part of this bill because increased funding could potentially only mean more distribution of junk, while the focus on local and made-from-scratch meals is the real way toward transformation.  Maybe it isn’t quite the utopian ideal we’re striving for but there is a lot of great stuff in this bill. 

The biggest question facing the new legislation is:  Where Will the Money Come From?  Most of the money added to the bill will likely go towards hunger issues, rather than on increasing quality of food.  In 2007, schools received around $9 billion for school food, an amount many thought was extremely insufficient.  Worse yet is that out of that $9 billion comes not only food, but heating costs for the cafeteria, custodial upkeep, etc.  According to an Op-Ed article by Alice Waters, “Schools here in Berkeley, for example, continue to use U.S.D.A. commodities, but cook food from scratch and have added organic fruits and vegetables from area farms. They have cut costs by adopting more efficient accounting software and smart-bulk policies (like choosing milk dispensers over individual cartons), and by working with farmers to identify crops that they can grow in volume and sell for reasonable prices.” 

 Cafeterias are undoubtedly in a tough spot, but national media attention (think: Jamie Oliver) won’t let this issue go away.  This is not a fad.  This is here.  

Read More in Books: School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program (Politics and Society in Twentieth Century America)by Susan Levine 

Free for All: Fixing School Food in America (California Studies in Food and Culture) by Janet Poppendieck 

Read More Online: 

Child Nutrition Act, PDF 

 “Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project.” 

The School Nutrition Association 

USDA National School Lunch Program

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