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Free for All

Free for All: Fixing School Food in America

Janet Poppendieck
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Free for All
    Book Description:

    How did our children end up eating nachos, pizza, and Tater Tots for lunch? Taking us on an eye-opening journey into the nation's school kitchens, this superbly researched book is the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of school food in the United States. Janet Poppendieck explores the deep politics of food provision from multiple perspectives--history, policy, nutrition, environmental sustainability, taste, and more. How did we get into the absurd situation in which nutritionally regulated meals compete with fast food items and snack foods loaded with sugar, salt, and fat? What is the nutritional profile of the federal meals? How well are they reaching students who need them? Opening a window onto our culture as a whole, Poppendieck reveals the forces--the financial troubles of schools, the commercialization of childhood, the reliance on market models--that are determining how lunch is served. She concludes with a sweeping vision for change: fresh, healthy food for all children as a regular part of their school day.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94441-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: In Search of School Food
    (pp. 1-25)

    School meals don’t have a very good reputation. Mention them and many people think of noisy, crowded cafeterias where children wait too long in line, then have too little time to eat. For people of a certain age, they evoke images of dreary, repetitive, unappetizing menus, airline-style entrees, overcooked vegetables, unripe fruit. For those who have been in a school cafeteria more recently, the imagery is apt to be what one critic has called “carnival fare”: corn dogs, french fries, burgers, pizza, offerings high in fat and salt and low in fruits and vegetables, color, flavor, and variety.

    It doesn’t...

    (pp. 26-45)

    My odyssey began in a kitchen, specifically, the kitchen of a high school cafeteria in a small city in a large northeastern state. I’ll call it Any Town High School, or Any Town HS.¹ I arrived at the back door of the school’s cafeteria at 7:00 a.m. on a cool October morning. The cafeteria manager looked at me quizzically when I introduced myself, then remembered: “Oh, yes, we have you this week.” The district food service director had agreed to let me volunteer in the kitchen in order to observe the day-to-day realities of preparing and serving school food. In...

    (pp. 46-83)

    To an outsider, many of the rules, policies, and arrangements that the Any Town High School staff and other school food service professionals take for granted seem perplexing. Why does the United States Department ofAgriculture(USDA) administer the program at the federal level? This isschoolfood, after all. Don’t we have a Department of Education? And given the long and fiercely defended tradition of state control of education, why are therefederalnutrition standards when there are not, for example, federal textbook standards or teacher certification rules? And since there are federal standards, why are they enforced by...

    (pp. 84-110)

    The menu that bothered me so much during my stint in the Any Town High School cafeteria—the pizza and potato puffs combination, as well as the various other relatively monochromatic offerings—turned out not to be idiosyncratic, not at all. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) conducts an annual survey of its members that asks, among other things, for the most popular item in each of several categories: entrees, vegetables, beverages, and dessert. The 2004 survey, the one that would have reflected the school year that I visited Any Town, reported that pizza was the favorite entree, for almost half...

    (pp. 111-132)

    “All school lunches have to be delicious and nutritious. It’s a law,” declares May, a character in Barbara Parks’sJunie B., First Grader: Boss of Lunch.¹ May, the quintessential tattletale, is not a particularly appealing character in this series aimed at children ages four to eight, but she is right about the law—at least as far as nutrition is concerned. Specifically, the law has said that in order to qualify for federal reimbursements, school lunches must supply one-third and school breakfasts one-quarter of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for calories, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. They...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE THE MISSING MILLIONS: Problems of Participation
    (pp. 133-160)

    Expecting controversy, I took a seat at the very back of the enormous ballroom in the Austin, Texas, Hilton Hotel, a vantage point from which I could observe the audience as well as the speakers. The School Nutrition Association’s Child Nutrition Industry Conference was in full swing. The overall theme for this gathering of upper-level school food service staff, school business officials, and representatives of the food industry was “Managing the Forces of Change,” and the morning’s opening plenary had been devoted to the childhood obesity epidemic. The afternoon’s session was billed as a “Town Hall on Commercialization and Its...

    (pp. 161-189)

    The prevention of hunger is the most widely agreed upon goal of school food programs, and school meals make a crucial difference in the lives of literally millions of American children every school day. I asked Dr. Suzanne Hallings, the superintendent of schools in Benoit, Mississippi, the school district where Patsy James serves lunch and breakfast, what she saw as the role of school food in the overall educational experience of Benoit students. “For our students,” she replied, “I think it is very important.” She went on to explain why:

    I think many of them do not have food at...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN FREE, REDUCED PRICE, PAID: Unintended Consequences
    (pp. 190-221)

    The problems inherent in a one-size-fits-all eligibility threshold and the myriad opportunities for error in the means-testing process are not the only problems with the three-tier eligibility structure for school food. In fact, they are not even the biggest difficulty. The biggest problem is the stigma that comes from being different, from being marked as poor, from being unable to pay in a culture that places excessive value on being able to pay and a school food subculture that increasingly views children as “customers.” Let us begin then by looking at how this stigma undermines the program.

    Depending on what...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT LOCAL HEROES: Fixing School Food at the Community Level
    (pp. 222-256)

    The road that leads up the Maunawili Valley on the windward side of the Island of Oahu is rutted and uneven. When the truck had bounced along for a mile or so, my host, Mark Paikuli-Stride, stopped to open a forest gate and say a brief blessing. The valley, he told me, was sacred. In that almost mystical setting, it was easy to absorb his reverence for the fertile land and clean water that are needed to produce taro, the most traditional of Hawaii’s traditional crops. Paikuli-Stride is both a taro farmer and the executive director of the Aloha ‘Aina...

  13. CONCLUSION: School Food at the Crossroads
    (pp. 257-296)

    Many years ago the historian of science Thomas Kuhn altered our perception of the way in which change takes place in scientific knowledge. InThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions, he argued that science does not proceed, as many imagine, by the gradual and orderly accretion of knowledge. Rather, he suggested, it proceeds by the accumulation of “anomalies,” data that do not fit the dominant theories of the age, until some new model is proposed that does a better job than the old one of making sense of the facts. The result is a paradigm shift. I think public policy proceeds...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 297-332)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 333-342)
  16. Index
    (pp. 343-353)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 354-356)