We were pleased to note that the Columbus Dispatch ran some stories this weekend on the subject of food in schools… and that the stories themselves were impressively well-researched and informative. Our hats are off to Jennifer Smith Richards, Simone Sebastian, and the Dispatch staff.
The Dispatch website contains articles by these two (“Tasty and Cheap, But…” and “Free Lunch?”), as well as links to a database that lets you explore school-by-school data to see changes over time in the percentage of students receiving subsidized lunches and to a map that lets you see at a glance which areas in central Ohio are most dependent on such programs. All in all, they’ve provided a valuable resource for anyone in central Ohio interested in the school lunch issue. (In fact, Ms. Richards’ article caught the attention of the national offices of Slow Food USA and showed up in their Twitter stream.)
Among the more interesting facts: Schools receive $2.57 per student for children receiving free lunches; once labor and fixed costs are accounted for, that leaves less than $1.50 for food. Participating schools are eligible for inexpensive, and sometimes free, food from a government program that buys low-quality commodity foods (one person interviewed refers to schools as “a dumping ground” for such foods). These two facts alone go a long way toward ensuring that school lunches for kids won’t be healthy… but there are quite a few more. We’ve run across a few more tidbits that would have been worth adding, like the way that some schools find themselves having to game the system—keeping percentage of calories from fat in the required range by adding non-fat calories in the form of Skittles, for example. But all in all, they’re well worth a read.