‘Eating In’ for Better Food in Schools

I went to a Slow Food USA “Eat In” at the foot of San Francisco’s magnificent City Hall on Monday, one of several hundred events across the country that aims to build a movement around the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. The Act covers many parts of government food programs that affect children, including school lunch programs — how much schools receive, how much local foods will be purchased, whether the milk will be rBST-free, and so on.  The current act expires at the end of September, but is seems unlikely that Congress will get to it by then, so we can probably expect an extension until the subject can fit onto the Congressional agenda, as CQ Politics report. (For background on the upcoming reauthorization, check out this Ethicurean post by Debra Eschmeyer.)

img_7779After enjoying a delicious and extensive pot-luck lunch featuring the summer’s bounty (so many delicious tomatoes!), several speakers — including Daphne Miller, M.D. (author of “The Jungle Effect“), a recent graduate of a high school that transformed its lunch program and State Senator Mark Leno (who sits on a committee dealing with children’s health issues) — told us what good food in schools means to them and what it means for our society.

Slow Food USA has developed a five part platform (PDF) for the school lunch program part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization:

  1. An additional one dollar per day for each child’s lunch
  2. Stronger standards about what foods can be sold in school, in the cafeteria and in vending machines
  3. Establish grants for farm-to-school and school garden programs
  4. Create financial incentives for schools to buy food from local farms
  5. Create jobs with a school lunch corps of teachers, farmers, cooks and cafeteria administrators

These are great ideas but I think they should be asking for a lot more than a dollar a day increase. Because when legislative proposals enter the ego-driven vortex of the Senate “centrists” (Nelson, Snowe, etc.), a funding level will be pulled out of thin air and declared “the limit,” even if all policy logic dictates a higher number (like, perhaps, that funding children’s health is a critical investment in our nation’s future). This arbitrary number picking happened with the stimulus package, as a Paul Krugman column pointed out in February, and has been happening with relative regularity with health care reform. So it’s time to heed the lessons of the last few months and ask for much more at the beginning and work down from there to the target.

For more information on Slow Food USA’s campaign, including how you can get involved, visit their “Time for Lunch” web site.

One Responseto “‘Eating In’ for Better Food in Schools”

  1. Ed Bruske says:

    The current federal school lunch program is not just underfunded, it’s the wrong business model. School lunches not only need to be fully funded to provide optimum nutrition, they also need to be universally free to all students. A large part of the problem now is that schools only receive subsidies for the meals that are actually served. Hence, food service directors must fashion their menus in order to entice students to eat them. We need to take adolescent preferences for pizza and french fries out of the equation.