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Telling excerpts from School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program, by Susan Levine.

Pages 182–183:

“Poor children formed the major target for food industry advertisements and new school lunch products. But paying children were still critical to school lunch budgets. To maintain a solid cadre of paying students, school cafeterias offered what they assumed the market desired. Lunchroom operators basically capitulated to the appeal and the lure of the consumer market in order to keep students—whether paying or free—in the lunchroom. In the mid-1990s, for the first time, federal rules allowed nine fast food chains to operate in schools…. Schools also began to offer ‘brand days’ in which the fast-food chains competed with one another for children’s lunch money. Brand-name products and fast foods promised to keep school lunchrooms financially solvent. Indeed, by the year 2000, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that one in five schools participating in the National School Lunch program had brand-name fast foods in their lunchrooms…. Food-service industry advertisers viewed school lunchrooms as the perfect place to create and solidify brand loyalty.”

“Neither the schools nor the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service could compete with the marketing appeal of the private industry—or with the new products offered on trial in school lunchrooms. When it came to brand names, product advertising, and education materials, school lunch professionals were complicit partners. The American School Food Service Association regularly consulted with food-service companies and advised them on how to bring their products into compliance with USDA nutrition guidelines.”

Page 184:
“In 2004, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine warned of an impending obesity crisis among American children. School meals, the physicians feared, contributed to children’s ‘over consumption of calories, fat, cholesterol, salt, and sugar.’ Finding child obesity to be at ‘an all-time high,’ the committee ominously predicted that this generation ‘may be the first to have shorter lives than their parents.'”

Page 191:
“In crafting a national School Lunch Program, legislators convinced themselves that they could subsidize agricultural markets and at the same time ensure the nutritional well-being of the nation’s children…. While policy makers and legislators alike boasted that the National School Lunch Program was intended to protect the nutritional health of all children, no one was willing to appropriate the funds it would take to actually carry out that goal. The competing agendas that have shaped school lunchrooms over the past half-century reflect larger fissures and tensions within American public policy.”

Emphasis added.

Food is pleasure, culture, and community. It is also fuel. Congress will reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act this fall. Let your legislators know that you want them to do what it takes to ensure schools can afford real food.

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