Improving School Lunches

Our own Tom wrote this article, which advocates a drastic overhaul of US school lunches, as envisioned by a woman -- the organic, superstar chef "Lunch Lady" -- who shares my and Tom's advocacy of all-natural foods. But Tom and the Lunch Lady take what I call a leftist, socialist view of how to get there: more federal funds to guarantee every child in the US an all-organic lunch.

I offer these criticisms:

1. As I've already documented in this blog, the US govt (via fed, state, and local agencies) already spends enough for each kid that we ought to get all we need out of the current budget; Tom and the Lunch Lady ought to argue for more efficient spending, not yet more money to get wasted.

2. The Lunch Lady claims that on average, schools only get about $2.50 to spend for lunch ingredients. This presumably includes govt sources combined paying for "free" lunches, plus cash tendered by "paying" students. I say that we can at least double that by rectifying the spending waste.

3. Before we have any hope of improving school lunches, parents generally must value food in the way that Tom, the Lunch Lady, and I do.

4. I assume that Free Market principles have the best chance of getting the best food into the most kids. I believe that some huge fraction of kids qualifying for "free" and "reduced" lunches spend over a dollar a day (on average) to purchase garbage out of school vending machines and at the corner store. How can we get that dollar out of the coffers of Kraft, Frito-Lay, and Coke, and into the hands of Whole Foods?

I have already solved this problem for my kid. I spend less than $5/day to fix my kid an all-natural, all-organic, nutrient-rich, chemical-free lunch that I bag up and send with her. And every evening and all weekend she gets meals, snacks, candy, and drinks that would make Tom and the Lunch Lady proud. And I've done nothing that most other parents couldn't do; even low income parents could choose to improve the food they provide their kids, as the magical free market brings down the cost of nourishing foods.


Nadir said...

Paul's point about waste is well taken. Most school lunch programs don't follow USDA guidelines - guidelines that are already heavily influenced by the food industrial complex. The fact that ketchup counts as a vegetable demonstrates the mindset of school lunch officials.

Unfortunately, Paul's philosophy that the market should dictate children's health is naive. Corporations and school administrators nationwide have proven over and over again that they are more interested in making or saving money than in providing children with a good education, much less with healthy meals.

The market has corrected itself in some ways where food is concerned. The success of Whole Foods has prompted the Krogers of the world to provide a limited assortment of organic foods next to their less healthy stock. This could happen for schools if food service companies like Aramark or Sodexho chose to offer healthier food to schools at comparable costs.

None of us should hold our breath waiting on that to happen. Paul's capitalist utopia is still a pipedream.

Paul Hue said...

There is no such thing as a capitalist utopia; capitalism does not promise a utopia, which I suppose is why so many people prefer socialism. Where socialism promises utopia, it always delivers less than a merely pretty good attempt at capitalism.

Take the case of natural foods, which Nadir cites here. Ten years ago when Nadir and I approximately moved to Westland, MI, we had a very difficult time accessing natural foods, which we obtained only via high expenses and elaborate efforts. And now even our lowly nearby Kroger has a natural foods selection (including some raw cheese!), as does our big box Mejer. Plus we have Trader Joes nearby, and Whole Foods rather close. Natural foods prices have dived, and availability has blossomed for us. Did a massive government effort bring us this? Did we only receive access to what everybody is guaranteed? Hardly. And people of all income levels have choices to make, with many natural foods now within their grasp.

My own kid, via less effort to me than it would take to literally pass an act of congress, and less effort and expense than it took ten years ago, gets an all natural lunch every day. And snacks at home, and dinner. Thank you, capitalism! People can solve their own problems better than can a government!

If the lunch lady is angry at senators and congressmen, I challenge her to to go talk the the school principles in Westland, MI about improving food quality. Their attitude: we don't want you suggestions, we already have the perfect system.

Paul Hue said...

Brainstorm: A company proposes all natural meal service for $25/week per student, including juice and dessert, paid in advance, with menus on-line. Or even better yet, via website parents and kids can select meals for the week, which would present options with various prices, and pay. This company would deliver those meals (somehow). "Free" lunch kids who opt for this get their $2.40/day applied to this, and now have the option to pay the difference. Paying customers would have the option to pay extra to help the "free lunch" kids afford better food, if they want it. Civic groups would also have the option to raise money to sponsor these kids for nourishing meals, should they opt for it.

In any case, the profit motive has always drawn more people to provide more and better goods and services to the most people, at least as I see things. Such a system would surely make inroads first in the wealthier schools, where parents have $5/day on average for meals, and the sophistication to want healthful meals. As the healthful meals spread to schools (public and private), citizens who want to help can voluntarily raise funds to assist getting nourishing foods to interested kids in poor circumstances, and administrators in these schools may also become interested.

Paul Hue said...

I would like to see the organic lunch lady try to convince even the average affluent parents to start feeding their kids according to her recommendations.