What if ... School districts valued farm-to-school programs?
My favorite school lunches in elementary school were the days we had a graham cracker slathered with chocolate frosting for dessert. I cannot name another specific menu item, but some fifty years later, I will occasionally buy a box of graham crackers, a can of frosting and binge for an evening—and, no, I don’t actually eat it all at one sitting!
I certainly cannot blame my sometimes poor eating habits on my school lunch programs, but I do wonder if my predilection for junk foods stems, at least in part, from my repeated exposure to them in school. I should note that my formative years coincided, almost exactly, to the explosion in processed foods and soft drinks.
Many parents, educators, and others are focusing on meals and snacks supplied by schools for a myriad of reasons, among them enhancing students’ ability to learn, combating childhood obesity, developing better eating habits, and making connections with local sources and the process of growing nutritional foods.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish school snack guidelines, with the goal of improving the quality of foods offered in schools. Beyond that, many localities are initiating farm-to-school food programs that share similar goals. Although improving childhood nutrition is a seemingly laudable goal, several hurdles stand in the way. The two most common obstacles (see 2012, Vol. 4 No. 2, “Ethical Leadership in School Lunch Program Meal Offerings”) encountered are concerns about cost and decreased demand, due to perceived concerns that school children will not like nutritional foods as much as the highly processed foods with which they are more familiar. We should note that the concern about decreased demand is really a cost issue, also—as it relates to covering the costs of supplying the food.
The cost issue is one familiar to any business ethics dilemma. One obvious reason for the industry’s reliance on processed foods is relatively low cost of production. Many are concerned that focusing on more nutritional—perhaps even organic—foods will dramatically increase the costs of school lunch programs. Worries about reduced demand led to a 2014 budget bill that allowed waivers (“School Food Environments—If Not Evidence, Then Ethics?”) to opt out of the The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The bill allows school districts time to implement the act in a more orderly fashion. Several of the implementation concerns stem directly from concerns about loss of revenue due to decreased demand.
Both concerns are valid. The cost of providing school lunches—like any other good or service—must be taken into account, just as maintaining sufficient demand to cover those costs is relevant. (Liver and Brussels sprouts, while I’m sure are highly nutritional, are not likely to appeal to most students.)
Another oft-cited concern, that of limiting the freedom of choice, is, in my opinion not valid. Children and adolescents are restricted from making choices in a wide variety of contexts (entering into contracts, joining the military, voting, not attending school) precisely because their level of cognitive development does not allow them the competency required to make good choices. Restricting food choices to healthier options is something any caregiver would strive to do.
What if school districts valued farm-to-school programs as an essential part of education? More pointedly, what if the benefit of students is at least as important as cost and faulty freedom of choice considerations? It is often remarked that our children are our future. Shouldn’t we help prepare them as best we can for that future?
Join us as we discuss the drawbacks and benefits of serving more locally produced food in schools throughout the state. What is the impact on nutrition, the local economy and the life-long habits of children. Parents and families with children attending K-12 schools, school board members from any district, K-12 school staff, and anyone in the community who has an interest in good food being served to children attending K-12 schools are encouraged to attend.
The facilitator will be Jodie Huegerich, local food program manager and Northern Iowa Food & Farm Partnership coordinator.
Wednesday, March 8th
Cedar Falls Public Library