A big reason for the stories is that the Blanche Lincoln bill passed committee. Here are two stories from Grist, an awesome online source, about why this bill is “dismal.” Of all the pieces I recommend today, these are the two you need to read.
A New York Times blog gave Lincoln the voice to say this is just the beginning of the reform process, and also to blame the current dismal funding increase on the need to avoid partisan bickering.
“We’d all like to do more and we’re going to try but we’ve got to get started,” she said. “If we just separate and go to our separate fox holes we don’t get to the end product.”
But my thought is, first, that child nutrition (unlike many other parts of the budget) should be beyond partisan bickering. Even much less so than health care reform. Just because “hippies” have promoted school lunch reform in the past doesn’t mean it’s a “hippie” issue. My second thought is, school lunches are such an incredibly small piece of the federal budget. There HAS to be more money somewhere. Haven’t they seen the movie “Dave?” (Wink!)
First Lady Michelle Obama recently told School Nutrition Association (SNA) members that “if you asked the average person to do what you have to do every day, and that is to prepare a meal for hundreds of hungry kids with just $2.68 a child – with only $1.00 to $1.25 of that money going to the food itself – they would look at you like you were crazy.”
I didn’t know she promoted these figures, since Pres. Obama only proposed around a 15-cent increase per school lunch, and apparently settled (placing the fallout on Sec. of Ag Vilsack) for a 6-cent increase. Surely Michelle realizes this. What does she think about it? I don’t mean to put a rift between the first couple, but surely Michelle has some say in what the president does. School lunch reform seems to be her biggest issue. Why is she settling for less?
The bill passing committee is an example of a “news peg,” some tidbit of breaking news on which a larger story is hung. But I’m a fan of stories that don’t wait for the officials to make an “official” announcement that’s been brewing behind closed doors for weeks. It seems artificial to me.
Here’s an example of a poorly-researched story with a dysfunctional news peg, by CNN. The first sentence name-drops the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization (“Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010″), but then goes on to talk about Ann Cooper’s re-vamp of Berkeley’s school lunches, not mentioning the Act again. The worst part is, the headline “School Lunch Gets an Upgrade” and the juxtaposition of these two elements (the Act and Ann Cooper’s work) make a reader think the Act will move us toward school lunch utopia. If you read the Grist articles above, you know it’s not so. We have to be on the lookout for misleading reporting, even from the likes of the top news outlets.
If you read Tara’s posts, you see it hasn’t been easy to face the giant school food companies. So far, to deny the release of ingredient information, they’ve claimed that their recipes are the intellectual property of the company. Much like a restaurant chef or owner “owns” his or her recipes and, thus, can even sell them. But with 62 ingredients in cheese pizza, I highly doubt this defense would hold up in court. There’s no way anyone would try to “steal” the recipe and use it themselves. (Imagine having these ingredients at home, or selling school food in any other venue!)
And when the school lunch companies that serve Chicago found out students were preparing speeches to the school board about the lunches, they went on preemptive strike. From this blog post by Monica Eng, a Chicago Tribune food writer:
“…yesterday representatives from Chartwells fanned out searching for the students who planned to give speeches-even asked to take some out of class–so they could talk to the kids about their presentations.
Some students have been denied permission to attend the meeting and others are postponing their speeches until April.”
How disastarous. I want to know if the company reps actually were allowed access to students. If so, I want the names of the administrators that allowed this BS.
But I stumbled on some good news this week, too. Silicon Valley investors are getting into the business of sustainable agriculture. Like the new car companies (Tesla, Aptera), they’re trying to beat traditional business at its own game. This could be the beginning of a long-term solution.
Maybe the proof-of-concept is already here, in this company that provides healthy food to schools that’s often local and organic, as reported by USA Today.
This Huffington Post writer interviewed a director of a school lunch program that has been on the mend for several years now. The main lesson we can take away is that if your school starts revamping their school lunches, buy from them. They need economies of scale to make this work. This may be intuitive because you want the best food possible, but here’s the strategy we should follow: the more thoroughly they revamp the program, the more you should buy from them. Give them an incentive to revamp it. If you’re campaigning for better lunches, make that a point. Doom and gloom without a solution is just doom and gloom.
Brandon Smith majors in both science and magazine journalism at Columbia College Chicago. He loves xkcd and has riled up health agencies in Ohio about not studying the effects of pollution. He’s at twitter.com/greenletters.