In 1946, the US Congress deemed the school lunch program “a matter of national security.” Since then, the program has grown to provide approximately 4.9 billion meals a year, and its offerings are often the only source of nutrition a child will get all day. But as Jennifer E. Gaddis shows in her new book, The Labor of Lunch (University of California Press, November 2019), our schools and governments are neglecting this vital program.
In the book, Gaddis discusses how private businesses increasingly feed our children with both eyes on the bottom line, leaving the dedicated and otherwise nurturing cafeteria workers doing little more than pressing buttons on a microwave. The ingredients are junk, she says, the term “school lunch debt” has entered the lexicon, and the workers are underpaid and underutilized. Gaddis offers both a call to action and a blueprint for school lunch reforms capable of delivering a healthier, more compassionate future.
The Labor of Lunch lays out how transforming the food culture in American schools can significantly improve both the lives of the country’s low-wage cafeteria workers and those of the millions of children they feed every day. Gaddis recasts school lunch as an essential yet often overlooked form of public care and offers a feminist history of the National School Lunch Program. Replacing the lunchroom’s meat patties and chicken nuggets, which are chock-full of preservatives and industrial fillers, with healthier, more sustainable food, and empowering those who serve the food to be more meaningfully involved in the work, are a basic and necessary steps toward creating a more equitable country, she says.
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