Alice Waters: “No Lunch Left Behind”

March 28, 2009

For sharing with the Living Small community: Alice Waters and Katrina Heron’s op-ed on school lunch in the NYT.

Waters, the czar of eating Small and local, and her pal Heron say scrap the National School Lunch Program, which has been providing food subsidies to schools since the mid-’40s, and which, they claim, doesn’t usually subsidize food. Waters and Heron want lawmakers to build the program from the ground up, almost literally — they want to see farm-to-lunchroom-table practices put in place, round and healthy meals prepared for our nation’s youth, as Ann Cooper enacted in the Berkeley (Cali.) School District.

The cost: Waters and Heron say that “it could be done for about $5 per child, or roughly $27 billion a year, plus a one-time investment in real kitchens. Yes, that sounds expensive. But a healthy school lunch program would bring long-term savings and benefits in the areas of hunger, children’s health and dietary habits, food safety (contaminated peanuts have recently found their way into school lunches), environmental preservation and energy conservation.”

Sounds reasonable from a financial standpoint, right? But from a food perspective: where to start? Sure, California’s got it fairly easy: everything grows there, year-round. But how can local, balanced meals find their way to schoolkids in, say, North Dakota in the middle of winter? Would the subsidy cover the cost of trucking fresh produce from the Plains to the Great White North? And what about the carbon cost of that kind of mass transit?

Ah, the circuitous environmental warren. Do you see a solution?

School lunch photo via Nourish the Thought.

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4 Responses to “Alice Waters: “No Lunch Left Behind””

  1. It’s true that eating strictly local might be challenging. But we could still go a long way toward improving school lunch programs just by actually employing people who cook from “scratch”. So much of school lunches consist of highly processed frozen items(in Michael Pollan’s words “edible foodlike substances”) that are dumped from a plastic bag and heated up then shoveled onto a tray. But then you might actually have to hire someone with cooking skills …

  2. Well, back when I was in elementary school, my granddad, a retired bakery owner, was The Baker for our school system, and you can bet that he wasn’t reheating anything.

    I’m guessing that schools still hire lunchroom folks with a background in food prep, right? Seems like they could craft something from local (or at least whole) ingredients without too much trouble.

    The problem, I think, are the subsidies. They don’t cover the cost of whole foods, and when budgets are tight, schools’ hands are tied re: what they can purchase in bulk. Sure, a barrel of wheat flour could make a lot of pizza dough, but for the same price, schools can purchase the pre-made pizzas. I can see why Waters and Heron are calling for the raze and restart of the program.

  3. Demelza said

    LS -I am all for a total revamping of the school lunch program, partly because I have a school-aged child, but more importantly because he’s a kid with some serious food allergies. Believe me, there’s nothing they serve in school that he can (or I would let him) eat. I’ve actually been thinking of developing my own line of gluten-casein-soy-free lunches, since I’ve had to become an expert in creating them for him. No PB&J sandwiches in this house, but definitely plenty of local veggies. You’d be surprised what you can do with a good thermos and some leftover Brussels sprouts! Hope all is well.

  4. Ha ha. I do love Brussels sprouts…

    Let me know if you start cookin’ — and good luck!

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