Unfortunately, the best place to start with this are the youngest members of society through the school lunch program.
In this era of government bailouts and concern over wasteful spending, an opportunity presents itself to take a hard look at the National School Lunch Program. When it was started in 1946 as a public safety measure it certainly turned out to be a disaster.
Under the program, the USDA gives public schools cash for every meal they serve – $2.57 for a free lunch, $2.17 for a reduced-price lunch and 24 cents for a paid lunch.
In 2007, the program cost around $9 billion, a figure acknowledged as inadequate to cover food costs.
What people don’t realize is that very little of this money even goes toward food because the schools have to use it to pay for everything from the custodial services to heating the cafeteria.
On top of these reimbursements, the schools are entitled to receive commodity foods that are valued at a little over 20 cents per meal. The list includes such highly nutritious foods such as high fat, low grade meats and cheeses, processed foods like chicken nuggets, and pizza.
Since many schools do not have kitchens, many of these delectable morsels are ready to be thawed, heated or simply unwrapped. Also, as an additional treat, the schools get “bonuses” from the USDA, which essentially throws good money after bad for leftovers from the big food producers.
When the schools allow fast-food snacks that contain the same ingredients found in fast foods and the resulting meals routinely fail to meet nutritional standards, maybe a handful of people in our nutritionally illiterate society protest.
But, our government caring little about this, justifies it by saying that they are “helping” to feed millions of American schoolchildren with a great many of them from low-income households. And here we thought the “weapons of mass destruction” were in Iraq.
But those that are not nutritionally illiterate are demanding better. Parent advocacy groups like Better School Food have rejected the National School Lunch Program and have turned instead to local farmers for fresh alternatives. And even though they face heavy budget obstacles, these groups are demonstrating that the schools can be in control of their own menus, Schools, for example, in Berkley, Ca., while continuing to use USDA commodities, cook food from scratch and add organic fruits and vegetables from local farms.
By adopting more efficient accounting software and different bulk options like choosing milk dispensers over individual cartons, and working with farmers to identify crops they can grow in volume and sell for reasonable prices, they have cut costs.
It’s just too bad that our nutritionally illiterate society has not yet discovered that most of us are lactose intolerant and that switching to dairy alternatives like non-GMO soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk or various nut milks would provide a far more nutritious venue.
A lot of the so-called “nutrition experts” believe that to fix the National School Lunch Program you have to throw more money at it. But without healthy, nutritious food and cooks and kitchens to prepare it, increased financing will only create a larger junk-food distribution system.
What we need to do is to scrap the current system and start from scratch.
The bureaucrats in Washington need to give schools enough money to cook and serve unprocessed foods that are produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or any other synthetic chemicals and are GMO free. And when possible, these foods should be locally grown.
How much would it cost to feed 30 million American school kids a wholesome meal? It could be done for about $5.00 per child or roughly $27 billion a year plus a one-time investment in real kitchens.
It may sound expensive but a healthy school lunch program would bring about long-term savings and benefits in the areas of hunger, children’s health and dietary habits, food safety, environmental preservation and energy conservation.
But the USDA would have to do its part as well (good luck!) by making good on its lame commitment to back environmentally sound farming practices and by realizing that there need to be a sound program to deliver food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, from farm to school. It would also need to provide support for kitchens and healthy meal planning and it would need to get of bed with Monsanto and the GMO travesty.
Actually, Congress had an opportunity to accomplish this when it looked at the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Child Reauthorization Act. Guess what? It expired.
What about the Department of Education? Doesn’t eating well require education? Shouldn’t students learn what foods are good and what foods to choose and how what foods they choose affects their health and their environment?
That’s why this new school lunch program should be partly financed by the DOE and Arne Duncan the Secretary of Education should oversee it, with Joe Biden stepping up to the plate, which he can never do, by making school lunch a priority of his White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families.
Every public school child in America deserves good nutrition coming from fresh ingredients. Parents that are cash-strapped should be able to rely on the government to contribute to their kid’s physical
Let’s eliminate the American public schools from harboring the real weapons of mass destruction!