On Alice Waters and School Lunches

February 22, 2009 at 6:43 pm 3 comments

When I began this blog, part of the intent was to learn more about food and the current issues surrounding it and develop my own opinions and use those opinions to influence my cooking and lifestyle.  All that said, Relishments has largely degraded into a demonstration of how many ways there are to use oil, garlic, herbs and canned tomatoes to make lunch (which I did once again today, though I’ll spare you a post). It’s becoming apparent to me that I really need to look into this issue and develop a stance, both as someone who loves food, and as a teacher.

On February 19, Alice Waters and Katrina Heron published an op-ed piece in the NY Times called No Lunch Left Behind.  They make a lot of good points, but as a high school educator, I don’t think their plan is going to have all the “magical” consequences they’re hoping for.  I do agree that “without healthy food (and cooks and kitchens to prepare it), increased financing [of the current school lunch program] will only create a larger junk-food distribution system,” but I’m unsure if there’s enough locally grown, untreated, unfertilized, fresh foods to supply every child in America with the perfect lunch every day, as Waters and Heron envision.

The column also argues that healthy meals could be created for $5, but that does not include the “one-time investment in real kitchens”, providing students with the education they recommend or new training for cooking staff.  I suspect a tab of far more than $27 billion dollars would result, especially in the first few years.  I’m also not sure that the long term benefits and savings would be as far-reaching as Waters and Heron hope (though I’d love if they were right).  I think school lunch programs can only do so much.  The real issue is frequently at home; even if children are educated about good eating habits and given good food at lunch (which may or may not actually taste good), I believe that youth are more influenced by what they see and experience at home than at school; yes, “…parents should be able to rely on the government to contribute to their children’s physical well-being”, but the keyword is contribute.

Finally, I love Ezra Klein’s commentary on The Internet Food Association: “There are things we should do because they should be done. We’re the richest nation in the world. We can do better than feeding our children inventively presented corn syrup fresh from the microwave.”  As much as I can be suspicious of Waters and Heron’s proposal, I’m sure that there are improvements that can and should be made to the school lunch program.  Changing school lunches is not going to revolutionize American health, as the column seems to envision, but there’s no reason why America shouldn’t make changes where we’re able.

See also:

Mouthing Off, from Food and Wine

Alice Waters Proposes New School Lunch Program, from Serious Eats

Anthony Bourdain on Alice Waters, from The Food Section

Alice Waters’s Open Letter to the Obamas, from Gourmet

Alice Waters on Wikipedia

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Entry filed under: food, internet. Tags: , , , , .

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3 Comments

  • 1. doriskd  |  February 25, 2009 at 9:14 pm

    i agree $5 a lunch seems high. i personally only let my kids buy lunch once a month because i feel i can make healthier food for less at home. but i think there are a lot of issues involved. i know when our school has tried to offer healthy choices, the kids don’t buy it.
    i think the root issue is that the government needs to stop subsidizing commodity crops and start subsidizing real food. then they won’t have excess junk to dump on the schools, and maybe a healthy lunch won’t cost so much.
    i guess it also depends on what you think the government’s role is. if it’s responsible for taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves, then a healthy free lunch should be a priority, because these are the kids that most likely won’t get good food the rest of the day.
    as a country, we’ve been spoiled into thinking we shouldn’t have to spend much on food. most countries have their food and health expenditures reversed. we have paid little for food, but make up for it with health care costs (and quality of life, i think). it’s time we realize that the days of cheap food are over.
    i think things like the soda tax are a great idea. why not tax junk food and make healthy food cheaper so that if you’re poor, you can afford to be healthy?
    here’s a link you might enjoy reading as a reply to waters
    http://internetfoodassociation.com/2009/02/23/the-pretentious-is-the-enemy-of-the-good/

  • […] 27, 2009 I posted some of my thoughts on the current school lunches discussion last week.  Meanwhile, the discussion rages on in the […]

  • 3. School Lunch Links « relishments.  |  April 1, 2009 at 9:08 am

    […] I mentioned before, the school lunch issue is a big one. I suspect that no educator reading the “Teacher, […]


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