The complicated politics of the school cafeteria
July 16th, 2014
09:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Kat Kinsman is the managing editor of CNN Eatocracy. She wrote this essay for the place-themed issue #52 of the SFA's Gravy quarterly.

Angela H. pulled me aside in the lunchroom to tell me that everyone thought my family was poor. This was news to me. So far as I could tell, my sister and I didn’t look anything like the barefoot, swollen-bellied children on the sides of the UNICEF cartons into which we slipped spare pennies. Nor did anyone attempt to gift us with sacks of half-eaten sandwiches, the likes of which our Grandmother Ribando said starving Armenian children would be most grateful to have. (Clean your plates, girls. Clean your plates.)

I pressed her for evidence and she relished the words, tumbling them around in her mouth like a disc of butterscotch before spitting them out on her Jell-O dish: “My mom says it’s weird that your mom wraps your sandwiches in Saran Wrap instead of a Ziploc. And why do you always have carrot sticks and a couple of potato chips when we all have cookies? Did your dad lose his job or something?”

I bought my lunch for the rest of sixth grade, making sure to spring for the chocolate milk instead of white—extra nickel be damned (and sorry, faraway UNICEF urchins). It’s not that I especially enjoyed the grey-meated burgers and leathery green beans slopped on my plate by a rotating cast of conscripted parents, but I loathed the notion that my peers thought they could infer anything personal from my lunch tray.
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First lady fights for kids' nutrition
June 19th, 2014
01:30 AM ET
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First lady Michelle Obama is continuing to question Republicans who want to roll back some of the key provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, telling a group of medical journalists on Wednesday "We're not even thinking about the possibility of rolling back because we just can't afford for that to happen."

The first lady said school nutrition has improved for the first time in 30 years and that 90% of schools are currently in compliance.
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Filed under: Childhood Obesity • Hunger • Michelle Obama • School Lunch


May 30th, 2014
01:30 AM ET
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First lady Michelle Obama's drive to stop a Republican-led effort to slow adoption of nutrition standards for school meals, a centerpiece of her anti-obesity "Let's Move" campaign, was dealt a setback in Congress.

Democrats aligned with Mrs. Obama on the issue failed on Thursday to strip the proposal from a $142.5 billion Agriculture Department spending bill, which was approved by the Appropriations Committee and sent to the full House for consideration.
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May 27th, 2014
06:30 PM ET
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Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

It's been a long time. A very long time. But I cannot forget my first school lunch.
Call it free or call it charity, but it was a good meal that provided me, and so many others, with sustenance that made our school days more delightful. Our meals honored the traditions of the time - red beans and rice with smoked sausage, bread and perhaps dessert. And of course every Friday we had fish sticks, potato salad or French fries.

We've come a long way since then. Today, most public school children get perfectly balanced meals. School chefs use food selected to provide maximum nutrition, food that will enhance a student's well-being and learning abilities. Their standards come from federal nutrition experts in the U.S. Department of Agriculture who survey what important foods are missing from children's diets.
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