Making School Meals a Priority with the “Department of Food”

December 18, 2008

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

Last week in the opinion section of The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof posed a great question, “Who will be Obama’s Secretary of Food? “

Kristoff reminds us that 100 years ago, when about a third of the nation’s population were involved with agriculture in some way, it made sense to have a department of Agriculture. Today, less than 2 percent of Americans are famers, but 100 percent of us eat. Perhaps our nation would be better served, Kristof suggests (as others have), by a “Department of Food” rather than a “Department of Agriculture.”

In the last 100 years, there has been massive change and consolidation in the agriculture sector, marked by a disappearance of small family farms and the growth large industrial farming operations. And, over these hundred years, the farm lobby has been very effective at protecting the interests of these large operations.

Now, we need to consider the best ways to protect the interest of those who eat – including the schoolchildren who eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at school every day.

Kristof ends his piece with a quote from author Michael Pollan:  “Even if  you don’t think agriculture is a high priority, given all the other problems we face, we’re not going to make progress on the issues Obama campaigned on – health care, climate change and energy independent – unless we reform agriculture.”

Among the many responsibilities of the Department of Agriculture is the administration of the School Meals program which provides funding and oversight of the School Breakfast, Lunch and After-school Snack programs. If the Department of Agriculture were to become the Department of Food, it is not such a leap (I write optimistically) that administrators and elected officials would  give more serious consideration to the School Meals Program and the important roles it plays in children’s health. (If you want to take action on this issue, consider signing HSC's petition for healthy food and fitness at school.) This program is important not only for the nourishment it provides students but also for the lessons it can teach them about how to compose meals and make healthy decisions about food.

So I’m going to take the liberty of adding an addendum to Kristof’s question:  “Who will be Obama’s Undersecretary of School Food?”