Thursday, September 29, 2011

Book Review: Lunch Wars

Image Credit: This is an actual school lunch from the USA submitted to | Link Here

I think many of us know that there's a problem with school food in the US. We've watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. We've seen the menus at our local elementary schools and winced. Maybe it has affirmed for you why your child will always take a lunch from home (that was my first thought too). But here's the thing: the USDA says that in 2009, they provided free hot lunch to 31 million children per day through the free and reduced lunch program. Should those kids, who depend on the school's hot lunch, have to eat like that every day? Especially when we could do better without raising the cost? For me personally, the idea of my nation's kiddos (even kiddos that aren't my own) receiving the above meal for lunch most days gets me fired up. But, I felt like I didn't fully understand the politics and policies that got us where we are today...let alone how to exert change. 

Amy Kalafa's new book Lunch Wars- How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children's Health does just that--explains the policies behind school food. For example, Kalafa explains, "[F]rom 1995 to 2005, our Farm Bill allotted 74 percent of government agricultural subsidies to meat and dairy outfits, 13 percent for grains, 10 percent for sugar, oil, startch, and alcohol, 1.9 percent for nuts and legumes, and .37 percent to subsidize fruits and vegetables," (p. 127). 

Kalafa (quoting food policy professor Marion Nestle) also explains, "When the pressure started coming on the USDA to provide healthy meals, the USDA went into a conflict of interest. It can't really be an agency that is meant to promote the consumption of American sugars and American beef and be in a situation where it's providing menus that cut down on high fat meats and cut down on sugars. So it's stuck between a rock and a hard place. So this is politics. And it's the ugliest kind of politics being fought over our kids' health," (p. 126).

Happily, there are also case studies of many schools who are now working outside the box to create healthier lunches for their kiddos. Many of them just seemed like such no-brainers to me, that I couldn't help but ask, "Why aren't we doing this everywhere?" For example, you may or may not be familiar with the idea that all across the nation, many farmers are being paid by the government not to grow on their land. One forward thinking state decided that instead of paying the farmers not to grow, they'd pay them the same amount to grow produce specifically for school lunches. I mean, DUH. That just makes sense--it provides the kids with healthier meals, and it also ensures that a portion of the billions of dollars the state spends on school lunches each year remains in the local economy, and because the farmers were being paid that amount anyway, it reduces the state's overall budget. Everybody why aren't we doing it everywhere?! 

Our family had already been making some shifts in the way that we approach food, but I think that this book may have sent us over the edge. We've been asking questions (happily, the school that Lizzy will attend when she's older has already broken away from the USDA's food provision and makes their own meals from scratch on-site). We've been thinking and talking about changing the way that we buy meat. I'm more convicted than ever about the importance of our backyard garden, not just because it cuts down on our grocery bill, but also because it is so important for Lizzy to see where food comes from and how it's grown. 


What do you think? Do school lunches concern you? Have you done anything about it? Join the conversation about school lunches over on BlogHer Book Club!

Disclosure Statement: This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but as always, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.


  1. Wow! This really is a scary issue. There is not wonder that obesity and health issues are prevalent among those in America with the lowest incomes. Healthy eating starts here.

  2. I agree, a very scary issue. I need to devote more time to reading about this to make some changes for our family as well.

  3. This is a real sensitive topic. I was an Exchange student in the U.S during the school year of 2001-2002.
    And to me School Lunches were Scary to say the least. I do not intend to offend anyone, but it was to me hard to believe that authorities or whomever is in charge considered it a reasonable.
    Last Year I did watch Jamie Oliver too! and I couldn't agree more with his perspective.
    Great post Mere.. I hope it helps people realize the real situation. and after all is for the wellbeing of all the kiddos.

  4. I watched Jamie's show too, and I was just appalled at the people that work in the school lunch "industry" that were just so "well this is what we do, no need to change it" kind of an attitude. It is scary and something we really need to think about! Kids need a balanced meal, and if they aren't getting at home OR school? That will just start a vicious cycle.

  5. I like the growing diversity of your review offerings.

  6. I guess I feel like the kids receiving these free meals REALLY need them to be healthier because I would guess in a lot of cases this is what their at home meals look like too. Having at least one healthy meal a day would also help with healthcare expenses. But above all else they need good fuel to learn.


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