The fact that this is, in part, a manual means that there are some parts that are rather lengthy and not that relevant for people like me who are not actually looking to change the school food, but rather just generally interested (just typing that sentence makes me feel guilty – should I be down advocating at my local elementary school?). I didn’t really need to see tons of examples of surveys to give to parents to determine how they feel about school food.
And it could have been edited down quite a bit – I think I could have very clearly gotten the picture with about 100 less pages.
But there was so much else that just fascinated me. I loved the stories about parents who made things happen, who got rid of soda and prepackaged food in their schools and brought in organic milk and real produce. I loved hearing how schools successfully phased out terrible foods and brought in better products and simultaneously improved the cafeteria’s bottom line, while reducing food and packaging waste (I know. I’m such a nerd).
I particularly enjoyed the section about the things that administrators and school boards are likely to say to shoot down efforts to improve food, and how to respond to them (for instance, “Kids need choices so they can learn to make good choices.” Her response? “Offering children unhealthy foods and drinks at school contradicts what they are taught about good nutrition and sends a mixed message. Why shouldn’t all the choices be good choices?”).
And because I am always interested in how money plays into the whole thing, I absolutely couldn’t get enough of how big food industries like Coke try to get their brand in the schools and create mini consumers. Or how schools lose money on the actual lunches, so they sell junk food in order to make up the difference. Or how getting a free or reduced lunch has such a stigma that by the high school level, less than 35% of eligible kids take their lunch, preferring to go hungry, even if that’s the majority of their food supply. And how, if the school lunches are terrible, kids who don’t get the lunch free aren’t going to buy it, making it very obvious which kids are too poor to pay themselves.
The studies about how food impacts children are just astounding. In one school that got rid of all soda saw a 50% decrease in suspensions from one year to the next (the superintendent thought better counseling was in part responsible, but credited the removal of caffeine as well). Schools that moved recess before lunch saw much more positive behavior in the classroom. Kids who originally only wanted to eat hot dogs learned to appreciate and enjoy diverse, healthy foods (it wasn’t overnight, but it happened).
Even if your child isn’t in school or doesn’t eat a school lunch (or even if you aren’t feeding a child), this book is so useful, so fascinating, and so inspiring. (Amy Kalafa thought it didn’t really apply to her because her child didn’t eat lunch at school, but she discovered that the money she put on a lunch card for the occasional forgotten lunch emergency was being used on an almost DAILY basis by her daughter to buy french fries and soda).
I could bore you forever with anecdotes and statitistics from this book. I won’t (you’re welcome), but if you have any interest in food, this is a book worth taking a look at.