I wrote a post three years ago about Aidan buying food at his school cafeteria on the sneak. His school had a contract with food giant Aramark which offers highly-processed food with little or no nutritional value and high amounts of sugar and sodium. So, instead of having the option to buy a healthy lunch of fresh foods or even eating the healthy lunch I packed, he chose to feast on chips and cookies. A kid thing to do ... maybe. But the option to buy junk on credit no less was just too easy.
So goes the story of the privatized lunch room at public and private schools across the U.S. I just read the OpEd in The New York Times called, "How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid's Lunch," by Lucy Komisar.
Her piece reveals that privately managed school cafeterias really offer little return to the schools in terms of cost and provide virtually no value to the student from a nutritional perspective. In fact, she writes that a researcher from the University of Michigan found in a 2008 study that schools that use private firms like Aramark, Sodexo and Chartwells spent less on labor and food and more on fees and supplies so there was "no substantive economic savings." So, schools really gain nothing.
Plus, the study found that, "privatization was associated with lower test scores, hypothesizing that the high-fat and high-sugar foods served by the companies might be the cause." So, kids really gain nothing ... except weight.
Kids pay the price of nonexistent cost savings.
There is an attempt by the USDA to write legislation that would provide kids with better lunches and higher nutritional standards, but corporate lobbying squelches any attempt at that. No surprise. Lobbying just prompted Congress to stop a once-a-week limit on starchy vegetables and allow tomato sauce to count as a vegetable.
What's most striking is that these food giants actually assert that kids don't want to eat healthier food. That's logical given that many of these kids haven't even reached the age of reason and when offered the choice between steamed veggies and chips, they probably choose chips.
Komisar points out in her op-ed that Sodexo says an increase in fruit and veggies could create "plate waste." Adding a protein to breakfast, Aramark says, would hamper efforts to provide "popular breakfast items." Profit motive is the only thing driving these decisions that have a significant health impact on kids ... remember, we're talking about kids.
It's unreasonable and unsafe to allow these corporate giants to feed students like this anymore. We have to demand reform.
We are beyond lucky to live in Boulder, Colo. where our kids enjoy lunch provided by chef Ann Cooper and the School Food Project. It's akin to Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard of Berkeley, Calif.
The Boulder mission:
"We believe that all children of Boulder Valley School District will have daily access to fresh flavorful and nutritious food made with wholesome and when possible, local ingredients, so that every child may thrive."
There's no food giant which means there's an attempt to completely eliminate all highly processed foods, partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar and flour, chemicals, dyes and food additives. Every day kids get access to an unlimited salad bar, organic one percent milk and fresh fruit.
The Aramark website proudly touts that the Ethisphere Institute named it one of the World's Most Ethical Companies in 2010 based on best practices in sustainability and business ethics. There's nothing sustainable or ethical about how they are feeding kids.
To learn more about how to help eliminate the deep fryer and chemicals in kids' lunches, check out food writer and researcher Marion Nestle's resource list for anyone who wants to advocate for better school food.
Also check out The Center for Ecoliteracy's PDF called "Rethinking School Lunch: A Planning Framework."