by Michelle Ajamian
What if The Universal School Meal Act, could result in removing the stigma of the free meal? The Act offers all students, regardless of income school meals without charge. Could that lead to examining how school food became so bad?
School menus are dominated by packaged cereals and heat-and-serve meats, like chicken nuggets. The outcome is an epidemic of diet related illnesses in children for the first time in history. And that epidemic is felt in other ways. The methods used to grow the corn, soy and wheat that occupy 90% of our farmland are major contributors to climate change.
Even though the National Farm to School Program has supported community involvement in school food since 1996, less than 1% of the $19 billion in annual spending in 2018/2019 went to the program, and far less to purchasing local grain and bean products. Why aren’t we spending more?
Since the 1970s, corporate food interests and their lobbies have controlled breakfast, lunch, and later, summer food programs with ingredients centered on grains and beans that are so highly processed that they have no flavor without sugar and fat, and no longer provide a sound nutrition profile without enrichment.
With another $15 billion to grain and bean farm subsidies, it’s clear that a shift to local sources can change rural economies that support a growing diversity of farmers, millers, and others who can bring culturally appropriate, delicious food to all students.
Back in 1969, communities across the country served free breakfasts that included corn grits to low-income students before they went to school. Organized by the Black Panther Party (BPP), more than 20,000 children in 36 cities were served. But not for long. BPP’s work against the systemic racism and oppression faced by Black and poor people was misrepresented in our news media and undone by the FBI, whose agents destroyed their breakfast food supplies. It took another six years for the The National School Breakfast Program to launch.
School food has trained generations of students to eat fast food. Let’s change Regional farms, mills, tortillerias and bakeries are ready to provide culturally appropriate non-GMO ingredients for Southern cornbread, tacos and refries, Indian Dal, soup beans and more.
If you look within a few hundred miles of your school district, what could your community serve up for breakfast or lunch at school?