Arguments against reform

One of the biggest impediments to fixing school food is a pervasive belief that:

  1. healthy food costs more;
  2. healthy food tastes bad;
  3. children won’t eat it;
  4. food that complies with the USDA guidelines is healthy.
Healthier food will cost more
        No, it should actually cost less. At one time the cost of school food involved buying the food and paying people to prepare it. But for many schools today, the money pays for:

Healthy green salad with grilled chicken breast

      • factories to process food
      • trucks to bring in soy, corn, etc.
      • equipment in the factory
      • workers to use the equipment
      • packaging for the product
      • huge freezers to store it
      • salaries and bonuses for the sales staff
      • salaries and bonuses for the executives
      • salaries for the secretaries and other support staff
      • benefits for the board of directors
      • dividends for stockholders
      • salaries for a staff to take orders
      • refrigerated/freezer trucks
      • workers to load up trucks
      • transporting product many miles
      • school freezers to store products

In order to cover so many costs, plus the large rebates given to schools, only a small percentage of the money is spent to pay for the actual food.

The children will reject healthy food

Boston schools have shown that there is no validity to the common belief that children will reject good food. The Boston’s Chefs in Schools Initiative, begun in 2007, has shown that healthy, delicious food can be provided without raising costs. It has been documented that the children are eating significantly more foods like vegetables, and the amount of plate waste has dropped dramatically. With nearly 3/4 of the children on free or reduced-price food, this boost in nutrition is vitally important. School food provides a large chunk of their diet.Schools that have reformed their foods report that plate waste is reduced, especially in the elementary schools where the children tend to be more open to new tastes. While older children may be more set in their food habits, they are old enough to understand the many problems created by a bad diet, and the benefits of making changes.The Federal Fresh Fruits and Vegetable Program provides schools with healthy snacks that are available to all of the children in selected low-income schools.

“The program is highly successful in introducing schoolchildren to a variety of produce they otherwise might not have the opportunity to try,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “I am pleasantly surprised when children tell me it was their first time trying a particular fruit or vegetable. Fortunately children are learning fruits and vegetables are healthy choices and tasty alternatives to snacks high in fat, sugar, or salt.”

But it’s important for school food reformers to know that food can be improved without students even being aware that it has been changed.

    • Food does not look or taste any different when the preservatives BHA, BHT or TBHQ are removed.
    • Yellow mac & cheese can be made with commodity pasta and cheese, and natural yellow coloring.
    • Pizza can provide valuable nutrients when it is made with real ingredients.
Students should have the freedom to choose the food they want.
      This would be a more compelling argument if students actually did have choices. Free choice would be a cafeteria that offers nutritious selections well as fatty fried foods, and vending machines that offer fresh fruit, along with the Doritos.

How much freedom is appropriate?

The little boy enjoying a zephyr in chocolate

Should a five-year-old have the “freedom” to select a lunch made up of ice cream, cookies and chips? Would any responsible parent allow this at home?

We can't change the food because it all comes from a central kitchen
  • The thousands of brand name foods in the Feingold Association’sFoodlist  books are prepared in central locations and packaged, then sold in retail stores and online. Stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have shown consumers that they can enjoy prepared foods without having to sacrifice their health or their tastes. The important factor is what goes into the product, not where it is prepared.
  • “We can’t change the food because we rely on government commodity foods.”
      Government commodity foods tend to be among the best options since they include many basic foods like pasta, rice, plain meats, canned tomato sauce, etc.
  • “We can’t change the food because we buy it from a large distributor.”
      These companies provide food for many customers. In addition to institutions like schools, colleges, prisons, nursing homes and hospitals, they also sell food to upscale restaurants. They are capable of providing what a client wants.

 

We don't have the equipment to prepare foods made from scratch
      • While the savings schools would see from healthy food could easily pay for installing state-of-the-art kitchens, there are lots of options. You don’t need ovens to make sandwiches and salads. The Arlington Vermont schools make wonderful food in old kitchens with antiquated equipment. By contrast, many well-equipped school kitchens use only their steam table.

    Washed red strawberries in clear plastic cups ready for sale, selective focus on the front middle cup

  • “Our school system is too large to make these changes.”
      The Greater New York City schools changed the food in their 803 public schools. New York in the nation’s largest school system.

 

  • “Our school system is too small to make these changes.”The Arlington, Vermont school system that changed to natural, healthy food, has only 2 schools.

 

  • “Our food complies with USDA guidelines”
      No doubt it does, but have you looked at the guidelines? They allow French fries and the little bit of tomato sauce on a factory pizza to count as vegetables.

 

More money is not needed!

Bad food means bad behavior, low test scores and poor health for many of the students. As schools are forced to spend increasing amounts on special services for children with behavior and learning problems there is less left for all of the other expenses.

Each child who no longer needs to receive special services will mean a huge saving for the school. One student going from special education to the mainstream program will save about $10,000 per year per child. This is the best argument a school food activist can use, but few of them are aware of it. With the amount of money a school will save on remediation, it can afford smaller classes, better salaries for teachers, more services for those children who need them, as well as great food!