Guest blogger: Free For All – Janet Poppendieck

I was intrigued but a bit scared when Mrs. Q invited me to be a guest blogger. I have never really blogged before, and I was full of questions? How could I distill the results of six years’ writing and research into a brief blog post?  How many words do I get?  May I mention my new book? (Free for All: Fixing School Food in America) My publisher? (University of California Press).  My name, rank and serial number? (Jan Poppendieck, Professor of Sociology Hunter, College, City University of New York).  Of all the fascinating stories and puzzling facts that have gone into my study of school food, what should I emphasize?
Then it hit me. This is the moment for readers of FED UP to SPEAK UP.  Right now, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, the legislation that will control school food and other child nutrition programs for the next five years, is wending its way through Congress. Now is the time to tell your Senators and Representatives what you want to see as an end result. Now is the time to ask for enough money to do the job right.
I’m sure many Fed Up readers are old hands at communicating with Congress, but for those who are not, here are some tips. If you are uncertain about just who your legislators are, you can find out by  entering  your zip code into designated box on the web site called Contacting Congress: Then, you can go directly to a form for submitting an e-mail to a member of the House at and to your Senators at
You don’t have to draft the legislation for them; that is their job.  You just have to tell them: 1) what you want, 2) how important it is to you, 3) and why it is important—and  remind them to put enough money in the bill to make achievement of these ends possible.
The best letters (e-mails, faxes) are the ones that tell a personal story.  “I was upset when I learned that my child’s middle school hallways are full of vending machines,”  or “Last year three high school students in our community were killed driving back to school from lunch at the  local gas station convenience store,”   or   “Our family is eligible for free lunches, but my older boys won’t eat them because they are embarrassed; in their school the  kids with money buy in cash from the a la carte line and the  main line is regarded as ‘only for poor kids.'”  Or “I’m trying to promote healthy eating in my family by encouraging my children to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, and I feel undermined when I see all the packaged goods in the school breakfast program.”  Or even,  “I’ve been reading the Fed Up blog for the past month, and I know we can do better.”
The most important thing is to send  a message—you don’t have to be an expert. Congress can consult any experts it wants.  Just make your priorities heard: — ending hunger through better access, healthier food, local procurement, or better care for the environment, whatever is most important to  you. The more people who write, and the more often we write, the greater the buzz and feeling of momentum, and the more likely that Congress will find the resources to do what needs to be done. While it is especially important to contact the members of  the next body to take up Child Nutrition Reauthorization, the House Education and Labor Committee, (and you can find out who they are by consulting FRAC’s up to date Congressional Directory at, all of our members need to hear from us. 
If you do want to know more about the problems and promise of food in our schools, of course I’d recommend reading my book (Free for All :Fixing School Food in America).  It was written precisely in the hope of empowering the movement for  feeding our children better.  You can also find out a lot more about current programs and pending legislation ( and see sample e-mails and letters)  at any and all of the following web sites: The Food Research and Action Center at;  the Community Food Security Coalition at, California Food Policy Advocates at, the One Tray Coalition at, the Healthy Schools Campaign at, and the New York City Alliance for Child Nutrition Reauthorization at Many of these web sites provide pre-prepared letters that you can send, though writing your own has more impact.
But you don’t need to read the book or pour over web sites to write to Congress.  If you’ve been following this blog, you know what you want. Now is the time to speak up.
*** Thanks so much to Ms. Janet Poppendieck for offering to write a guest blog post. I’m so honored that she wanted to participate. I purchased her book from Amazon more than a month ago and I haven’t had a change to get far into it. If you have any questions for her, feel free to post them in the comment section. ***
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18 thoughts on “Guest blogger: Free For All – Janet Poppendieck

  1. You know, I was sitting here reading this and wondering what I could put in a letter to my congressman that would be a personal story. My girls are both under four, and we plan to homeschool them. So public school lunches won't hinder us personally, but I'm angry for the children who do have to eat the junk they're calling food every day anyway.

    Then it hit me. Maybe a challenge?

    Yes, the swap from getting processed junk with couponing and sales to eating "clean" costs us a good deal more. But my family of four is still eating for an average of $1 a meal. If all four of us can eat three meals a day plus snacks on $70-$85 a week, surely they could work out a deal with local farmers to get fresh produce at low enough prices to provide real food for their students while staying within budget.

    Well, maybe at least in areas where cotton isn't king. But still, it can be done.

  2. At my school there used to be an a la carte line but they took it out because it was to expensive. Also students at my school go to the gas station down the street and buy junk food during lunch

  3. Well, I am a child from the 1960s and 1970s school system. When my daughter was almost done with high school that I apologized to her. I a told her, "I thought the lunch ladies were making you lunch." I felt just terrible that I had not been paying better attention. I visited during the lunchtime on day and couldn't believe my eyes. I had no idea they were just heating up processed food.

  4. First, this is a great blog and I love the way that you have incorporated guest bloggers. I've ended up following some of them on Twitter. I've read Free for All. It is incredibly well researched and eloquently argued. What we feed our kids is such an important issue. It's the future of our country, of our world. On that note, I just started reading Diet for a Hot Planet by Anna Lappe and I think that kids (and adults too) need to be thinking about the impact of what they eat on the planet's health as well as on their own health. I wish we could all be more thoughtful about what we eat but we are so busy and the food marketers are ubiquitous. What we feed our kids is also an intensely personal issue and one that raises everyone's hackles. I've spoken up about getting soda and processed food (pop tarts, snickers bars, skittles, gatorade) out of our school's cafeteria and I've gotten a lot of push back from other parents: "How dare you tell my kids what they can and can't eat!" "Just because you can't control your own kid's eating junk food, doesn't mean that you should deny my kid his skittles." And also from the school that is concerned that if they don't serve the junk food, the older kids will leave to buy it elsewhere, putting their personal safety at risk (car accidents, muggings, etc.) Blogs like this, books like "Free for All," (as well as Michael Pollan's books, movies like "Fresh" and "Food, Inc.") Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, activists like Ann Cooper, Jamie Oliver, et al. are forcing a national dialogue about this and hopefully change will come.

  5. I'm all for it, but mandates in Michigan have stymied school funding so much, and we're already dealing with that giant sucking sound going to online education due to budget cuts. we can't even educate, let alone feed our kids at at school. No funds left to even decide the direction to put them, just how can we cut what we're funding now. is there hope to do this without add'l funding? Somehow federal trickle down doesn' t reach it's destination if it's all federally funded.

  6. With today's budgets being hard to meet, I doubt that anything will be done. If they do increase the budget for food, the money will come from somewhere else, like getting rid of teachers. I think teachers are more important. My child brings his lunch from home, that I make. If you don't like the school lunch, give your child a lunch to take to school. The book costs $20, I think that is too expensive to read about lunch food.

  7. The book's too expensive to purchase? Fine. Buy it second-hand or borrow it from a library.

    Mrs. Q, you're doing good work. Don't give up!

  8. writing your congresscritter is a great idea, if you have a congresscritter that's responsive to people like us who want to make a better life. i, on the other hand, have john cornyn, kay bailey hutchison, and pete sessions. they would vote no to money falling out of the sky if president obama said he'd sign it.

  9. Yeah, there are these places called "libraries" that let you take home books FOR FREE, as long as you bring them back in a certain amount of time. I know, it's crazy. They have DVDs too! So it's like Blockbuster only free. Apparently this is part of what my tax money pays for, in addition to those "public school" things that give other people's kids educations for free. Obviously these things were thought up by some commies somewhere.

  10. Thanks for this information! I haven't heard of this book before, but now I am definately going to check it out. I've recently, and I do mean recently, started blogging about my weight loss journey. Previously I've been making videos on YouTube, but blogs give you a little bit more speaking room. Anyway I just uploaded a picture of one of our school lunches on my latest blog and would like you to take a look when you can. Thank you for what you're doing and for having guest bloggers, I had been wondering what to do about the Child Nutrition Act and now I'm going to write a letter. Thanks again!

  11. Whether or not our elected officials support the issues we believe to be important, we have to try to make our views heard. Congress members are there because someone in their constituency elected them. Elected officials will stay in office as long as their constituents feel they are best represented by that person. How will my Congressmen (at least in my area they are all men) know what is important to me, their voter, if I don't tell them? Thank you for the reminder that the only way to bring change about is to do my part.

  12. I'm looking forward to reading Poppendieck's book. I read her last one, "Sweet Charity?" about the emergency food system and it blew my mind. I love that the world is small enough (and the internet big enough) that she wrote on this blog.

  13. Hi, Professor Poppendieck!

    I heard you speak on the School Food Matters panel at The New School several weeks back. I was so glad you were there to champion our cause. I actually gave a little report on this blog from what I learned at that event.

    I was also really thrilled to see you here on the FED UP blog! What an excellent post – informative and empowering! Thank you!

  14. Thank you for posting!
    I am a senior at Occidental College in Los Angeles and am just finishing up a thesis comparing school lunch policy in the United States and France. Your book has been a really excellent resource.
    You are actually coming to speak here next week (unfortunately 3 days after my paper is due!) but I look forward to meeting you.
    Keep up the great work!

  15. I've started reading "Free For All" at the advice of a friend who has asked me to work on a school nutrition project. I'm in the research phase right now so I'm just trying to absorb information and read as much as I can. As sad as this topic can be it's also an exciting time to be "in on it" because it really does feel like we're about to see some real movement and awareness. Great blog, great guest blogger!

    C.E. Uticone

  16. Why are we relying on the Federal government to write policy for our local schools? Just because of funding? Once they control the purse strings, you lose local control. That, and the fact that our schools care about money and benefits more than they care about the kids, answers your questions. You know that vending machines don't belong in the schools. And why are kids allowed to leave school premises during school hours? And why aren't you packing a lunch or having your older child pack a lunch? By the time they are in high school, their preferences (shaped largely by their eating habits at home) are pretty much set. The influence should come from home and the local community, not Washington DC. Ask yourself why we are sending our tax dollars to Washington, so that they can send them back, and tell us what we will feed our kids. School control should be local!

  17. I couldn't agree more with the last anonymous comment.

    Lunch is the responsibility of the PARENTS. For those who are truly needy or neglected (IF and only if their families don't already receive WIC and Food Stamps), there could be a locally managed safety net.

    I honestly don't understand the purpose of this book or this blog. Stop trying to nanny every family out there.

    I'll feed my kids. You feed yours.

  18. Let me guess Anonymous, a big fan of vouchers???Your approach would be fine if we lived in a Libertarian state but we don't and it's called public education and with the childhood obesity problem it is obvious that many parents just can't or won't and these kids deserve a chance to decide to do the right things in life…that is a BIG art of education as far as I'm concerned.

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