Friday, May 22, 2009

Is there a free lunch?

I wanted to pass along this article from Gourmet online about the Red Cloud Indian School, their history of food self-sufficiency and the path to their current lunch service under the National School Lunch Program. I think the author does a good job of describing the complexity around things like child labor issues under the old system and decisions based on what’s available through the commodity program in the new system. I think it’s worth a read.

One interesting passage challenges a common belief that cutting out unhealthy snacks and vending machines will reduce revenue in schools, or that they’ll just bring snacks from somewhere else:

“Then, three years ago, Red Cloud administrators made the difficult decision to eliminate soda pop, candy, and processed snacks in campus vending machines, and that had expensive repercussions. “Our high school students used to hang out in their lounge eating chips and soda for lunch,” explains school superintendent Robert Brave Heart Sr. “When we took out the machines, those students starting showing up in the cafeteria, and that increased the number of lunches we had to provide every day.”

(Note that for the article presents increased lunch participation was an increased expense for the school, but for most, increased participation means more reimbursable lunches, more paid lunches sold, and more money to put back into improving the lunch program)

The article mentions Senator Harkin and the Farm Bill, but doesn’t bring up the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). The CNR is the federal law that is updated every five years and is where the nutrition guidelines and reimbursement rates for the National School Lunch Program are set, among other child nutrition decisions. It is currently being debated and hearings are being held in DC now.

The National Farm-to-School Network has partnered with Community Food Security Coalition and School Food FOCUS to summarize the Farm to School Initiatives and their policy priorities for the current Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Some of their priorities are specifically to support farm to school programs, and others are for general improvement of the lunch program by higher reimbursement amounts, funding food service training, strengthening nutrition standards and improved nutrition education. Their document “Nourishing the Nation One Tray at a Time” contains a good overview and history of farm to school, the Child Nutrition Act and then outlines the policy priorities to make it easy for people to contact their legislators to make their opinions known.