To really appreciate the USDA’s most recent gaffe we have to go back to the beginning. We have to return to a time when the country’s streets were barely paved and plenty of children were getting left behind, a time when school lunches were unheard of and it was only by the efforts of independent community members that those who made the trek to the tiny school houses in a few of the nation’s cities were provided with a warm meal at midday.
In those days it was not just the poorest among us, the few, the minority, that would not eat well otherwise; it was the majority. Back then, the well-fed school child was the minority. Recognizing how nutrition played a role in academic success and our nation’s future prosperity parents, teachers, and community leaders banded together to come up with independent programs. In most cases, “provided with a warm meal” is an overly generous description. It was, in every sense of the word, a group effort. Each child was expected to bring something to add to a community pot that would be simmered over the hearth all morning until it was time to eat.
As unappetizing as it may sound to us, so many decades in the future, at the time these simple, local programs worked wonders. Children were fed a variety of warm foods each day, and were able to concentrate on their studies into the afternoon, rather than the rumbling of their stomachs.
It wasn’t until many years later that the national government would take over in a vain attempt to do as well on a national scale as those parents and teachers had on a local one. For all intents and purposes we could probably stop here, the failure implied in the very idea that they could do any such thing, but for whatever reason it has taken us all these generations to see what a failure it has been. And now, it would seem, even the National School Lunch Program’s governing body itself is admitting defeat.
A6 Thornton: School meals designed to meet a portion of kids’ needs. Parents may send add’l healthy snax to meet athlete needs.
During a recent Twitter chat aimed at making parents more comfortable with new school lunch rules that, Janey Thornton, director of the program, tweeted the above response to concerns that newly limited meat and dairy portions would not sufficiently fuel active kids. The response, of course, highlights the problems inherent with so many programs the government has taken into their own hands over the years; programs that have always been intended to serve those who are otherwise under-served, those whose parents — in the case of school lunches, for instance — cannot or do not “send additional healthy snacks”, but now leave those most at risk to slip through the cracks.
The school lunch program has always been about feeding those children who would not be fed otherwise. If we can’t do that on a national scale maybe it’s time to return to a local model, one in which those people — those parents and teachers — with a vested interest in our kids’ health and well-being are on the front lines; not Janey Thornton in some Capitol Hill office.
Image via iStockPhoto/Debbi Smirnoff