When I was young, my family was poor. I ate the school lunch because I got it for free. Though it was rarely my only meal of the day, it was often my main meal of the day. Still, I remember when I was 7 years old biting into the hotdog on my tray and my best friend telling me, “Do you know what that is made out of?” Hotdogs were the first food that I gave up out of principle.
It didn’t take long for me to get curious about other aspects of my lunch and of the food that we got delivered once a week to our door through a different welfare programs. Why did our cheese come in a box and did we have to have Kixs cereal again? In highschool I was no longer receiving free lunches and I usually avoided the school’s food with a horror only accessible to teenage girls, or to new mothers learning about the school lunch program.
The National School Lunch Act was established in 1946 by President Truman. The government, however, first got into the school lunch business during the Depression when FDR, reportedly,
saw subsidized school lunches as a way to help guarantee poor children would get at least one hot, healthy meal a day and also as a way to help support American Farmers using tax dollars. Today, 30 million children participate in the School Lunch Program. Half receive free lunches.
The school lunch program is in crisis. The government would probably say it is because the average school lunch costs $2.66 to produce where the average subsidy is only $2.47 per meal. Consumers, however, might be more worried about the contaminated meat, the hormone-laden milk, and the lack of fresh vegetables.
The USDA, which is responsible for the school lunch program, seems to behind the times both in their science and in their understanding of consumer trends. Consumers were outraged after it was discovered that the growth hormone rBST or rBGH that was being used in many of America’s dairy cows was not as innocuous as Monsanto claimed and were linked in some studies to early onset puberty and cancers. Canada, the E.U., Japan, Australia, and New Zealand have all banned the use of the growth hormone in their cows. And guess what growth-hormone laden milk is the staple of the school lunch program?
Milk isn’t the only problem, meat, the other stable of the school lunch program, has been handled similarly. School children are also slated to receive the irradiated beef. (See previous blog for more info.)
I was always the goodie-two-shoes who got the regular (not chocolate) milk and drank it because my mother told me too. Those were in the good ol’ days before rBST, but what are parents to say to their kids these days? “Skip the milk, skip the meat, and don’t eat the French Fries either. That would leave kids who rely on free school lunches with a plate of ketchup. (Did I mention that conventional ketchup has some of the highest pesticide levels of any produce?”)
Learn more about school lunches at healthyschoolscampaign.org.