How Do We Get Processed Foods Out of School Lunches?

Andrew Dalton

American school kids should go Brazilian. That's what Mark Bittman says. No, he's not promoting soccer or waxing, he wants them to eat more like poor people.

The New York Times food writer, slow food advocate, and enemy of Chocolate Cheerios says despite widespread poverty there, Brazilians trump wealthy Americans in one department. 

He says that when he heard from an NPR story that kids in Brazil have always gotten rice and beans every day -- usually considered the essence of poor-folk food -- he told himself that would count as "progress" in our processed-food-first-and-last culture:

"Because from a nutritional standpoint, rice and beans would be preferable to most U.S. school lunches, which are now being seriously discussed as contributors to obesity, or at the very least as a failure when it comes to countering it."

But recently the Brazilian government mandated that 30 percent of the food served in school lunches be meat, fruit, and vegetables from local farmers. It's become an issue in their presidential campaign. Can you imagine that -- fresh food grown locally -- in any American school, public or private, in Berkeley or Boca Raton. Look at the scene that NPR describes of what's happening in Brazil and try to imagine it here:

"Today these middle schoolers are leaning over bowls of homemade soup, full of carrot, onion, cabbage, squash, and beef, much of it local."

It can give small farmers a much-needed subsidy too. Of course it's easy for me from California to tout the local food, maybe harder in colder and far-flung places, but it's a point worth pursuing. Plus, we don't want our kids eating what's really in a chicken nugget.

"Are you telling me we can't manage to do this here?" Bittman says. "It's a matter of politics and will."

He says that as though those are small mountains to climb.

But ask anyone trying to get public health care or universal preschool passed. Will, and especially politics, are pretty much the whole ballgame.

Do you think it could ever be done here?


Image via NatalieMaynor/Flickr

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