Two visions of school lunch square off in the political playground
This year, Congress will reauthorize the Child Nutrition and WIC Act — which either cleverly directs low-quality industrial food to our nation’s most vulnerable population, or ensures the health of our most precious resource, depending on whom you ask.
Like the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Act comes up for review every five years. It encompasses the School Breakfast and the National School Lunch Programs, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
If you ask me, it’s geared pretty precisely to fit the needs of the processed food industry; “child nutrition” has little to do with it. That’s why I was thrilled to see the recent NYT op-ed by Alice Waters and Katrina Heron called “No Lunch Left Behind.” Surveying the wreckage of the school-lunch program — declining childhood health metrics, hollowed-out school kitchens that have become centers for reheating pre-fab chicken nuggets, etc. — Waters and Heron conclude that:
How much would it cost to feed 30 million American schoolchildren a wholesome meal? It could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year [vs. current spending of $9 billion] plus a one-time investment in real kitchens.
“Yes, that sounds expensive,” they continue. But does it really? The Treasury and Federal Reserve hand that much cash over to insolvent mega-banks like Citigroup before the first coffee break some days. And unlike propping up “zombie banks,” a robust school-lunch program offers plenty of positive synergies, as the authors make clear: healthier children and future adults, stronger local and regional farming economies, etc.
While Waters and others push to transform school lunches, some of our nation’s largest corporations and trade groups aim to keep it just the way it is. From the American News Project, here’s a great video documenting lobbying efforts from the likes of Pepsico and the National Pork Producers Council.