Sunday, March 1, 2015

More context on the "school lunches around the world" phenomenon

Both The Lunch Tray and Mother Jones (who quotes extensively from Siegel's blog on The Lunch Tray), give a compelling argument for why we need to be cautious about taking at face value the stories and web galleries that purport to show how fantastic other countries' school lunches are compared to those in the US.  I've been guilty of spreading these images, too, but as I have said, I don't really get the fascination.  Perhaps there's some notion that other countries haven't succumbed to processed food, that elsewhere they are holding onto their slow-produced, scratch-cooked meals featuring all sorts of real, organic food.  The two stories I referred to in the first sentence above remind us that this wishful thinking just isn't true.

In my travels looking at school food in Anglophone countries--England, Australia, and South Africa, there's certainly a lot of interest in getting kids better food.  But in all those places they struggle with the same Western diet we do.  Pizza in English cafeterias, even after all of Jamie Oliver's struggles.  Candy in Australian canteens and loads of hungry kids who get no subsidized lunch.  Variations of corn mush in township schools in South Africa.  In the private schools there they eat better, but still lots of access to junk.  That said, I've seen better versions of school food, too.

It's a good reminder that school food is complicated and suffers through local, national, and even transnational politics before it takes the form it does on the plate.  Picture galleries aside, the US has much to be proud of, and it has much to learn, as well.

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