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Cafeteria Chronicles: Funding School Lunches

by Jaimie Stevenson 

Tags: Science and Technology, health, school lunch reform, Free For All, Washington Monthly, Cafeteria Chronicles, Jaimie Stevenson,

In February, Barack Obama signed a memorandum to establish a Task Force on Childhood Obesity, including the launch of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to address childhood obesity and nutrition. One day earlier, British Chef Jamie Oliver won the 2010 TED award, which will help him to launch a cross-industry initiative to fight obesity by educating families about food. This week we will be looking at childhood nutrition by highlighting books and articles that have passed through our library of late. –The Editors 

Cafeteria ChroniclesTo write a single sentence that explains just the school cafeteria side of the obesity debate is a challenge. Here's a shot: In America, we have a population of kids united by poor nutrition, but divided by economic strata--there are those who eat too much, and poorly; and those who eat too little, and poorly.

In her new book Free For All: Fixing school food in America, Sociologist Janet Poppendieck says the U.S. should eliminate the funding factor by providing free lunch for all kids, as a first step toward remedying the issues of malnutrition and obesity.

Poppendieck’s hefty analysis of subsidized school lunches in the U.S. is an important read. For a sampling, read Washington Monthly's review. In it, Michael O'Donnell writes:

Where lunchrooms in the past treated children as lucky recipients, they now view them as customers whose business must be won. Vending machines light up the hallways, usually through an exclusive contractual arrangement between school or school district and a company like Coca-Cola or Pepsi. Fast-food operations like Subway and KFC set up shop in the food court, tempting away all the students with enough money to afford a hoagie or fried chicken strips. Alongside the traditional cafeteria meal are a la carte lines where burgers and French fries (and their unholy cousins, tater tots) glisten with grease under the lamplights, exempted in all their fatty glory from USDA nutritional requirements. Even those children who buy the standard hot meal eat mostly junk: pizza with fries hits all of the major food groups, if you define the groups expansively enough. As Ronald Reagan’s USDA famously taught us, ketchup is, after all, a vegetable. 

Source: Free For AllWashington Monthly

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