Improving School Lunch from the Top Down: New Momentum, Significant Policy Shift

September 10, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

Salad

Since HSC began working on school food programs, we've never seen such
dramatic shift in policy on school nutrition — and it's exciting to not
only watch it unfold, but to be part of the movement.

Straight from the top, President Obama and the First Lady
are active supporters of improving school food. This is a new
experience for us — having support from the leaders of the free world,
that is.

But possibly even more dramatic are the changes that
we're seeing at the USDA.

Remember, the USDA has been labeled by some
advocates as part of the problem, not the solution. Historically, the
USDA has been viewed as the agency that uses schools as a dumping
ground for cheap commodity products. But I think this is changing. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan just sent out a memo that “details how to use USDA funding for
the kind of projects that are being developed by First Lady Michelle
Obama and her food policy team, such as school lunch infrastructure,
farmers markets, farm to school programs, cooking classes.”

The pieces for school food reform are falling into place. Advocates are lining up to support change, including the School Nutrition Association, Slow Food USA, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and more.

And now our top policy leaders are now even coordinating their lead

For the first time, we're beginning to get a glimpse of what could be
accomplished if the goals and initiatives of the USDA and the East Wing
and the West Wing really are integrated. And while a complete
paradigm shift will also require private initiatives, especially for
school lunch changes…
this is an unprecedented move on the part of USDA to support real
transformation… by focusing its resources. Seven short months ago,
Merrigan's memo was almost unimaginable. Today, it was released to
little fanfare…proof of how far we've rapidly gone in the paradigm
shift.

Now,
I agree that there is a need for private initiatives for a complete
paradigm shift, but that's not all we need. For real transformation we
also need to get a broad base of support for change. Getting a new
federal school lunch program may cost billions of dollars — and that's not
an easy sell in this economic environment, even with support from the
top. So we need to hear the voices of the parents, students, teachers,
and community members that tell our political leaders this is an
investment in our kids, our health and our future.

Our top leaders have started making the changes to support our kids. Now it's our turn to keep it going.