School lunch reform: A pipe dream or a deluge?

The kids will have their… whole wheat roll?: The momentum is building for big changes to the national school lunch program, reports Kim Severson in the New York Times. Ann Cooper, the chef who famously transformed lunches in the Berkeley school system and has since moved on to Boulder, Colorado, is a featured speaker at the conference of the School Nutrition Association, a group from which she has long been marginalized.

Along with the SNA’s unexpected embrace of Cooper, there are other signs that the lunch program may get a healthy overhaul: Congressional support for a $0.70-per-lunch increase in federal funding, a 26 percent increase over current rates; outspoken support for healthier lunches by Michelle Obama and Deputy USDA Secretary Kathleen Merrigan; a USDA study on national farm-to-school programs; and a barrage of healthy school lunch campaigns by nonprofits and private companies. (Cooper and Whole Foods have partnered for a “school food revolution” campaign to educate parents and raise money for Cooper’s work.) (New York Times)

Over at the Beyond Green Blog, Tom Lawasky digs into the lunch story and asks whether the USDA has too many conflicts of interest to do the job. To reduce market volatility, the USDA has long purchased surplus commodities like meat, cheese, grains from U.S. producers and distributed the food to schools. Can the agency carry out real reform in the lunch program without also reforming commodity purchases? (Merrigan, in the NYT piece, says the government is working to increase the amounts of fruit and veggies in the commodity program.)

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