School Food

School Food

Hi folks — working on a really exciting redesign, so expect to see the maintenance mode page again over the next week or so.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about school food. The Billings Gazette had a piece about an elementary school that was about to start offering breakfast to all students. Which sounds like a great idea, except that I read about it right on the heels of Ed Bruske’s series, Tales from a DC School Kitchen in which he spent a week in his daughter’s school, and discovered fun facts like the breakfast offered contained as much as 13 teaspoons of sugar. Hmm. Breakfast is good, but is that breakfast good?

The Bozeman Chronicle reports that the Farm-to-School movement is getting some additional support, but it doesn’t yet sound like they’re seeing much local food in the local schools (and no, selling “local” huckleberry jam as a fundraiser doesn’t count.) Personally I think a great use of stimulus money would be to rebuild actual kitchens in the schools, and, as Tom Philpott has suggested, run a debt-exchange with culinary school graduates to run them. They could learn budgeting and cooking for picky eaters, and the kids would get real food. Or just hire lunch ladies again. I’m a huge fan of lunch ladies.

The way we pretend to use agricultural surplus to feed our schoolchildren should be a national shame. There’s nothing “agricultural” about the sorts of highly-processed heat-and-eat crap we’re serving them. Here’s an eye-opening blog post by a mother from Houston who gave in to her daughter’s wish to buy lunch (which was social in nature, the kid ate food she knew would make her sick three days running). She told her kid she could try school lunch for a week, if she’d take a picture of each lunch. Take a look here at what the kid was eating.

To top off this little school-food roundup, here’s Jamie Oliver’s terrific Ted Talk. He can be a little annoying, but you have to give the guy credit for fighting the good fight for cooking and real food. It shouldn’t be so hard.

6 thoughts on “School Food

  1. Michael Pollan was on Democracy Now a week ago, and among other things, he talked about this very thing. One thing I hadn’t thought about before was how classism is now interjected into the very question of nutrition and school lunches.

    “And long term, I think a very important thing to do is make it [school lunch] free to everybody. Right now it’s only subsidized for the poor. And what that means is you have a two-class system in every lunch room in America. Kids know who’s getting the subsidized lunch and who’s not, and there’s a huge stigma attached to it. You know, what kind of message is that to send? Our most democratic institution, the public schools, break into two classes at lunchtime every day.”

  2. My kids’ school has an arrangement with several local farms. The nutritionist for our school district runs the farmers market, too; I imagine that’s where she developed the contacts.

    The way our district does it is, there’s one central point where all the food is cooked, bread baked, etc. Then it’s distributed to the individual schools. So while there are only reheating stations at the individual schools, it’s all freshly made. I don’t know how common that is — but seeing as we’re a small town, I find it hard to believe the model was invented here.

  3. In our district the lunch accounts are handled by a lunch number system where the kids punch in their code and money is deducted from an account which the parents pay online or in the office. There isn’t any money, vouchers, or tickets changing hands at the lunch line so nobody sees if you are subsidized lunch or not.

    I have seen the lunches at my kids school and they are a little better than those on the HoustonMom blog but not much. The scary thing is that it can be much worse. For a while a district that we previously lived in was contracting with various fast food franchises to provide the lunches. I also can’t say my school day lunch experiences were any better back when I was a kid and they still had kitchens and lunch ladies. I swear I had never seen green beans floating in a pool of grease until I actually looked at the stuff they were serving me in the lunchline (late 1980’s).

    I must say though, having been on the subsidized lunches when I was a child; That nasty, crappy meal was a hell of a lot better than the NO lunch or breakfast I might have been facing from time to time if it hadn’t have been there.

  4. What I meant to say was: there’s variability in school lunches just as there’s variability in school performance. Schools are not run by the federal gov’t. So while of course I applaud the effort to improve schools which feed kids crap, it’s important to recognize that not all schools do so.

    One of the kids in my daughter’s class always brings his lunch. His mother will not allow him to buy a lunch through the school because she’s a conscientious mother & she believes, from everything she’s read in the national media, that he would be fed crap. However she gives him PB&J on store-bought white bread and those store-bought granola bars with chocolate chips in them…

    Maybe schools ought to be graded on the quality of the lunches in the same way that they’re graded on class size, test performance, etc.

  5. As a mom with a kid in public school, I allow him to eat school lunch once per week. Kids want to fit in, and one time per week eating things that he normally would not get does not concern me overly. However, I also know that I am lucky in that I have the time and money to shop for and prepare his lunches on the other four days a week. There is such a condescension involved in the whole foods movement sometimes, as if any parent (and let’s be specific here, because it would always be expected to be the MOTHER) who doesn’t have the resources to hand-grind flour is poisoning her kid. People with food insecurity are trying to get more food. It takes a long time to get from that point to “instrumental” food. I think this is one of the best posts I’ve ever seen on the subject:

  6. Ed Bruske also had a good follow-up interview with the head of the DC schools on this issue here:
    It’s such a tricky issue, and I know one mother, whose kids qualify for the weekend backpack program (because they’re farmers, and never have any cash) and who wrestles with the amount of junk that gets sent home. Her kids really like it, and she just wrings her hands, but also doesn’t want to forbid everything “fun” that the other kids get.

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