USA Today has an op-ed this morning entitled “Want Fries With That? Not at These Schools.” In it, the newspaper is critical of those, like the School Nutrition Association (which represents school food directors), who worry that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is underfunded and that schools will not be able to meet its mandates without more time and more money than the six cent increase allowed by Congress. Says USA Today:
This ignores the fact that there is no more money, and delay is the enemy when it comes to childhood nutrition.
All the players would do better keeping Congress’ mandates in place and looking to the schools that are already doing it right.
Instead, the paper highlights schools like one in St. Paul which uses a central kitchen to bake breads from scratch or one in Denver which used the services of school food consultant Kate Adamick (interviewed by TLT here) to greatly improve its menus.
As a counterpoint, Dana Woldow was asked to submit her views, which appear in a shorter piece entitled “Pay Now or Pay More Later.” In it, the veteran school food reformer points out that:
While some school districts already serving better food might appear to be “doing more with less,” they usually have extra funding or costly resources, such as a central kitchen for scratch cooking, which other districts lack. In reality, they are “doing more with more.”
It all goes back to a question that’s been debated hotly on this blog for a long time (see “Why I Rained on Someone’s School Food Reform Parade” and the posts linked to it): can a school district ever “get it right” using just the federal reimbursement rate? Or, if you dig deeper at a “miracle” school, will you always find that there’s some outside or community raised funding, such as the $2 million San Francisco USD gives to subsidize the the reforms Dana Woldow and her peers have brought about, or the outside, community funding Chef Ann Cooper is seeking in Boulder, CO?
Moreover, no two districts face the same issues — some are small, with lower labor costs and a population that can support a higher price for lunch, and some are huge, comprised of mostly kids on free and reduced price lunch, and in an area where unionized workers can demand more pay. Some have huge central kitchens (like Houston’s, which cost $52 million to build), and some have seen their cooking facilities reduced to equipment that can only heat and serve.
No one loves school food success stories more than I do, but I agree with Dana that they need to be taken in context so we can learn which miracles can be reproduced elsewhere and which cannot.