On Wednesday, September 9th, the Detroit Justice, Peace, and Ecology Committee (JPE) of the Province of St. Joseph hosted a national Slow Food USA Eat-In to promote more nutritious school lunches. This event was part of a National Day of Action, where thousands of people across the country shared a meal to demonstrate the need for Congress to pass a better Child Nutrition Act. Among other things, the Child Nutrition Act covers the National School Lunch Program, and an increase in funding would mean healthier food for school lunches.
Currently, the USDA reimbursement rate per child in public school systems is $2.70, and groups like JPE are asking for an increase of $50 million in funding, equaling to about $1 more per child.
There have been efforts across the country to improve school lunches, including farm-to-school programs, where schools reach out to local farms for a portion of their produce. Similarly, Chef Ann Cooper has partnered with Whole Foods and the Kellogg Foundation to implement a healthy lunch campaign in Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Harlem in New York City.
However, there are challenges with implementing these new programs. Because so many schools have been outsourcing their food production (this is where tater tots and fish sticks come in), the only kind of kitchen equipment that's necessary is a microwave. This means that many schools are without traditional kitchens and the tools needed to cook real food.
Along with the additional cost of buying kitchen equipment, schools would also need to hire a larger staff to prepare the food. With an already tight budget, it makes sense why subsidized government commodities look more appealing.
What should we do?
The best and easiest way to introduce healthier food in school lunches is to advocate for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. You can do this by signing the petition or by writing a letter to your congressmen. Slow Food USA also has a few resources that you can use in spreading the word about this issue.
What connects the Child Nutrition Act with hunger?
Ensuring that our children get a healthy meal at lunch is important not only because it will help them to concentrate in school, but also because it might be the only balanced meal that they receive throughout the day. Share Our Strength, the parent organization of Operation Frontline, makes it their mission to end childhood hunger. They recently gathered schoolteachers' stories about the hunger they see in their classrooms. One middle-school teacher said, "The only meals that this little one, Kimberly, was guaranteed were served at school. Anytime we had leftovers, she would always want to take them home. She’d wrap up the leftover food to take home to her little brothers and sisters. She was a second grader trying to make sure her family got fed.”
Here is a video that depicts the hunger that teachers see every day: