By Kay Steiger
School lunch has historically been nasty. I stopped eating it at a very young age, preferring to pack my own lunches (my mother worked and didn’t usually have time to pack a sandwich in my purple lunchbox) in elementary school instead of shelling out $1.10 every day for lunch. My understanding is they haven’t changed much from the days of hamburgers and nasty spaghetti (see above) of my youth.
It’s certainly not an accident that school lunches got this way. Obama’s chef Sam Kass from Chicago took the opportunity recently to talk about how subsidies are to blame. “The government subsidizes various agricultural industries, creating overproduction in commodities such as beef, pork and dairy. This overproduction depresses prices, endangering the vitality of producers. The U.S. government purchases the overproduction it has stimulated and then disposes of the excess by giving it to schools,” Kass remarked.
It’s certainly not an accident that school lunches got this way (for more on the history of the school lunch program you should read this review of Susan Levine’s book on the subject). A combination of agriculture subsidies, lax enforcement of nutrition standards, and general lack of funding for the school lunch program leaves schools with some of the lowest quality of food you can find anywhere. Since most of the poorest children are subsidized, we’re ensuring an unhealthy life for them. Its a problem that will only be helped by fixing some of the subsidy problems we have, but it’s also important to address this problem directly as well.