You are on page 1of 6

Baumann 1

Anna Baumann
Ann Anagnost
Anth 311 A
Feb 26, 2017

School Lunch Memoir

I have had a varied experience with school lunches. I went to elementary school in

Berlin, Germany, middle school in Albany, California, and high school in Ontario, Canada.

Germany had a state-based lunch program which served low cost nutritional meals, while

Canada had no unified school lunch program and only served a la carte items. In this essay, I

focus on my middle school experience in California, where I sometimes ate the not so nutritious

reimbursable meal. Ive eaten a full meal on a real plate at school and Ive eaten a pre-packed,

four-dollar, partially raw chicken burger at school. Janet Poppendiecks account of school lunch

in Free for All made me aware of just how many issues and challenges contributed to me eating

the rather bland and unhealthy middle school lunches that I did. It also made me aware of how

problematic it is that we treat children as consumer citizens, with the power/resources to buy

whatever product they desire to eat, and that school food isnt free for all, leaving many children

hungry still.

Reading Free For All has given me a much better understanding of all the problems

schools face in trying to feed children. I attended Albany Middle School in Albany, California.

Before reading Poppendiecks book, I thought little about my middle school lunches. Half the

time my mother would pack my lunch and, when life got a little too hectic in the mornings, I

would eat the school lunch. Mostly I remember a lot of curly fries which I, as a new immigrant,

found quite fascinating. I did not know potatoes could come spiral shaped. There also was a veg

and fruit bar, but the main meals often consisted of burgers, fries, pizza and, on ethnic days,

Anglicized versions of Chinese or Mexican food.


Baumann 2

My middle school used a POS (Point-of-Scale) system with a PIN, if I remember

correctly. Poppendieck described how POS systems came to be introduced in the 1980s to try to

simplify the school lunch sorting and payment process. Some of these systems used personal

identification numbers.1 Now my former middle school uses a system called My School Bucks

where parents can deposit money online to further simplify the process, but when I attended from

2008-2011 my mother still had to bring a check into the main office.2 Lunch now costs $4.25 but

when I attended it cost $3.25.3 The reduced price meal was less than a dollar.

At the time I was going to middle school, my parents were both in graduate school and

not making much money. Even though I was eligible for the reduced price meal, I never went on

it. Poppendieck states that this is often the case due to the stigma associated with the reduced

lunch and the hassle involved in the application process.4 Yet in my case I was not the one

ashamed, my mom was. I told her to get me onto the reduced lunch, but she never did. She

wanted to be independent and not need the governments help. I do not know if I simply didnt

notice a stigma in my school or if there really wasnt one, but in my experience reduced priced

kids werent ridiculed. They bragged that they only had 10 dollars on their accounts but would

still never run out of lunches. Those of us who paid the full prince often had accounts that would

go into the red.

At my school, if our accounts reached near or past zero and we didnt have enough to

pay, we would still usually get our lunch, but the lunch lady would give us a stern warning and

tell us to speak with our parents about depositing more money. This was the embarrassing part

1
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 216.
2
Pre-Payment Options, Albany Unified School District Food and Nutrition Services,
http://ausdschoolfoodproject.org/index.php?sid=1212122355243477&page=prepaidacct (Accessed Feb 22, 2017).
3
Menus, Albany Unified School District Food and Nutrition Services,
http://ausdschoolfoodproject.org/index.php?sid=1212122355243477&page=menus (Accessed Feb 22, 2017).
4
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 198.
Baumann 3

that caused me to not eat on the few days my account was in the red. I would rather go hungry

than to face the staffs glare. Poppendieck mentions the story of a 6 year old boy who saw his

lunch dumped into the trash in front of him and then got an alternative penalty sandwich

instead.5 While this is horrible and I am sure was very traumatizing for the child, I can

understand the schools dilemma. In one Florida school district, a 675, 000 dollar deficit was

reached yearly, because of debts in lunch accounts.6 This is an enormous amount of money to

lose for an already under-funded school.

From my middle school experiences, in connection to the reading, I have concluded that

school food should be a social program. It would be free for all and a great equalizer in schools.

Yet, this is an as of yet far-fetched dream. Many hindrances stand in the way of universally free

lunch. The US system has dug itself into a hole. The reduced price option makes the system

much harder to administrate and oversee, having to categorize meals into different sections and

verify parental incomes if applications are even returned. Because the system is so complicated

and a stigma is attached to it, many that are eligible do not apply and children go hungry. The

full-priced version needs to exist to raise school income levels. The school store needs to exist

for the same purpose. All these different parts are needed to run the system as it currently stands,

but they also smother each other. Competitive foods lower reimbursable meal participation; yet

they also raise money since many find the school meal unappetizing.7

School food is complex. It needs to meet USDA nutrition standards to be reimbursable

but it also needs to be appealing to children so they will participate.8 When fries are the only

thing students will eat, is it better to feed them something so they wont go hungry or is it still

5
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 218.
6
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 219.
7 Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 190-121.
8
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 113, 38.
Baumann 4

wrong to feed them unhealthily? If they are served healthy food they wont eat, the National

School Lunch program will have to shut down as it will not make enough money back in

reimbursements anymore.9 This was essentially the argument made by the food service director

at Any Town HS (whose name is not stated for anonymity reasons) to explain why potatoes

(another starch) are served with pizza at lunch instead of salad. While I understand his point, it is

also true that if you feed children only healthy foods, and take away the unhealthy, but seemingly

more attractive options, they will eat it. It may take a week or two, but once they are hungry

enough they will eat the healthier meal and learn to like it. Beyond this, healthy school food

options need to taste good, not be a pre-packed wilted salad or over-cooked green beans, so that

children can get used to the taste of real food and be conditioned in a better way.

I do not believe children should be treated as consumer citizens. However, I think it is

possible to keep the power of choice, and still use lunch as a teaching moment. In Germany, I

always had 2 to 3 healthy options presented to me from which I chose one. Then I ate on real

plates, with mouth closed, using utensils. If I didnt, my teachers would correct me. They also

told me when I had eaten enough and could wash my dish. Lunch was relaxed and social but also

a strict learning exercise on how to behave properly in society. I had choice, and I learned.

Poppendiecks account of American school lunches, and something such as Jamie

Olivers exploration of Italian school lunches could not be more different. In America, children

are treated like consumer citizens, with vending machines, school stores, and purchasable junk

food aplenty. Poppendieck states that SNDA-IIIs findings indicated that all high schools, 97%

of middle schools, and 80% of elementary schools had some form of competitive foods.10

Comparatively, in Italy, only organic food is served to children for a very cheap price and food is

9
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 38.
10
Janet Poppendieck, Free for All (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2010), 159.
Baumann 5

used as a teaching moment.11 And I do believe that that is at the heart of the school food issue in

the USA. Through it, we teach children to view unhealthy, highly processed foods as favourable

and attractive. It offers two unhealthy options, the reimbursable meal and the store items, and it

does not teach children much.

School lunch can be a catalyst for overall change. If school lunch is treated as a learning

moment, it can change the course of a childs life, especially if that child does not receive

nutritious meals in his/her home. We can teach children how to eat nutritiously, care for their

bodies, be self-sustainable, socialize and form close peer bonds, and care for the earth/appreciate

where their food comes from. We can see a good example at MLKJ Middle School in Berkeley,

California, of how a local food source (school garden) can help children understand the process

of preparing foods and teach them how to work for it.12 If we condition our children to view

whole foods as appetizing they will eat healthily in the future and that will stop the obesity crisis

currently plaguing our country. They will carry what they learned in school into the future and

hopefully help change the toxic food system that we are all currently living in. If enough people

grow/source food locally and demand and fight for change, it will eventually occur.

School food is a difficult issue. It should be free for all, but it isnt. It should teach

children how to eat nutritiously and with manners, but it doesnt. It turns them into consumers

instead. My own middle school is an example for this. The school food system needs to revise

heavily to become healthier, less complicated, and eliminate hunger among children. It is a

difficult challenge, one which I do not know how to fix entirely either, but if enough people fight

for change and start reforming school lunch locally, eventually change will spread.

11
Ann Anagnost, Free for All: The Paradox of Free and Reduced Lunch (Lecture, University of Washington,
Seattle, WA, Feb 15, 2017).
12
Ann Anagnost, The Edible School Yard (Lecture, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Feb 22, 2017).
Baumann 6

Works Cited

Anagnost, Ann. Free for All: The Paradox of Free and Reduced Lunch. Lecture at the

University of Washington, Seattle, WA, Feb 15, 2017.

Anagnost, Ann. The Edible School Yard. Lecture at the University of Washington, Seattle,

WA, Feb 22, 2017.

Pre-Payment Options. Albany Unified School District Food and Nutrition Services.

http://ausdschoolfoodproject.org/index.php?sid=1212122355243477&page=prepaidacct

(Accessed Feb 22, 2017).

Poppendieck, Janet. Free for All. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press,

2010.

Menus. Albany Unified School District Food and Nutrition Services.

http://ausdschoolfoodproject.org/index.php?sid=1212122355243477&page=menus

(Accessed Feb 22, 2017).