by Slow Food USA staffer Gordon Jenkins
This week is National School Lunch Week, as designated by Congress in a law that dates back to 1962. To announce it, the White House issued a press release that began, “Every young American deserves access to a wholesome, nutritious lunch.” This is noteworthy because it is true and because the reality of school lunch is nowhere near it. More often than not, the lunch served to 31 million young Americans at school is overly processed and unhealthy, and the impact of this problem extends far beyond the cafeteria.
Congress created the National School Lunch Program in 1946 “as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well being of the Nation’s children.” At the time, the U.S. was emerging from a war in which an alarming number of army recruits were so malnourished that they were unable to serve. Recognizing that lack of adequate food during the Depression had created a national security risk, Congress created a program to provide every child with a healthy lunch every school day. When President Truman signed the program into law, he declared, “No nation is healthier than its children.”
This is a lesson we have forgotten. Today’s kids are the first in over two centuries to have shorter life expectancies than their parents. We shouldn’t gloss over that fact: for the first time in modern history, our kids are unhealthier than we are. Why? Because we let them eat the overly processed foods that have taken over the American diet. Many parents let their kids eat them at home, which is irresponsible – though sometimes parents don’t have much choice. Letting kids eat them at school is just unacceptable. In this economy, more kids than ever need the guarantee of a healthy meal every day. It is wrong to put a child who relies on school lunch in the situation where the alternative to going hungry is to eat the processed foods that are going to make him sick and keep him from performing well in the classroom. Our nation can do better.
To get involved in Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign, click here.