Las Vegas

As I started reading “Egg Men” I was reminded of another article about food in Las Vegas in the New Yorker (a trend perhaps?).  It’s from August 2010, “The Truffle Kid” by Dana Goodyear.  It’s about food importers and touches on many themes we’ve been discussing, such as authenticity, and others that we haven’t focused on quite as much, such as sustainability…think about the costs of getting all those foodstuffs (not only seafood, but “authentic” truffles, etc) to a desert wasteland.  And Goodyear includes a brief history of restaurant culture in Las Vegas, very interesting.



In 2010, Sarah Wu a.k.a. “Mrs. Q” decided to eat school lunch every day for a year and document the process.  She now has a book, so I think we should also begin thinking about how we’re going to turn this blog into a money maker.

But moving on, I’ve picked out a few of her posts that might be interesting for us to think about/that I liked.  Here is her original post, short and to the point.  Each “day” includes a photo of the meal and summary of taste/other sentiments aroused by a school lunch.  Fed Up With Lunch has evolved as the blog gained more attention, so look back in 2010 for the meal reviews.

Here is a summary of the new school lunch regulations with other links at the bottom of the post.  This one is about a pre-K student whose homemade lunch was deemed unhealthy based on USDA guidelines and given a school lunch instead.  I’ve included this one not so much for the story (the link from the blog is to Fox News), but for the clear emotional response inspired by taking a turkey sandwich from a child and giving them chicken nuggets instead.

And lastly, while we’re thinking about the food industry, this post is about a NYT piece I had seen earlier this week. Not only do schools contract with companies for food, but they also receive free products from the USDA and then send them out for processing.  For example,

“the Michigan Department of Education… gets free raw chicken worth $11.40 a case and sends it for processing into nuggets at $33.45 a case. The schools in San Bernardino, Calif., spend $14.75 to make French fries out of $5.95 worth of potatoes.”

Again, we’re back to the issue of working kitchens and whether a school has one in addition to the funds to staff said kitchen.  Is the convenience side of Belasco’s triangle the winner when making school lunches?  Cost?  Lobbying power?

Farm to School

I was thinking about a friend of ours who used to work for Portland Public Schools setting up school gardens.  She was doing Ameri Corps and I noticed, when serving myself, that there was a push for host sites that fostered farm to school programs.  I found this site, which showcases some current programs nationwide (no surprise here, Oregon is really into farm to school).  It sounds eerily familiar though, connecting farmers to school children, ensuring farm viabilityandnutrition, while respecting each community’s specific needs (no regulations here folks).  Of course implementing a farm to school program depends on state laws and regulations, but is this just another lunch program that provides for middle class students (and farm subsidies)?  Could something like this work in Philadelphia?

Between Two Ferns with Susan Levine

To start, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your method.  You mention in your acknowledgements that your own children served as an inspiration to start this book.  How did you go from there?  Did you have specific questions in mind? Did you know you would use this time frame, etc?  As grad students it is always interesting to see the decisions scholars make, obviously some things just have to be left out, how did you decide what to focus on and what to leave out?

I didn’t really know where I was going w/ school lunch – and had no idea
it would turn into a book! I thought at first the slp was a New Deal
program but soon discovered the program began in 1946 but had longer roots
in the Progressive Era.  One thing led to another – history of nutrition,
the role of home economists, the role of the Department of Agriculture,
and finally, the relation of school lunch to the Civil Rights Movement.

Since this is a class on food, was it a conscious decision to not talk about what children ate and their experience with the food? Do you consider School Lunch Politics to be a food history?  What defines a food history?  (Are descriptions of food or the physical act of eating/taste necessary?)  What might a history of what children ate/the history of taste in school cafeterias look like- could the politics behind school lunch be muted?

Yes, I specifically wanted to make the point that food is politics –
school lunch is not just about the food kids eat but is tied to a
constellation of political choices and alliances. I think it is impossible
 – or at least misleading – to separate the food that is served in
lunchrooms from the political forces that support the program – and pay
for the food!

Last week we read Tracey Deutsch’s Building a Housewife’s Paradise and she was asked to define politics, I was wondering if you could do the same?  How did the school lunch program shape the way you thought about politics?  Did political trends of the 20th C shape how you thought about school lunch?  What surprised you about the lunch program while you were researching the book?

What surprised me the most were the unlikely alliances that came together
to support a national school lunch program  – conservative Southern
legislators, Northern liberals – later anti-hunger/poverty activists and
food service providers who could provide lunches for large numbers of poor
kids at reasonable cost.  Politics really is  public alliances and choices
– and the power centers   – that make programs possible or impossible.

It was interesting to see how school lunch reflected the contemporary atmosphere throughout the book.  During the Cold War it was about building healthy (white, middle class) citizens and a strong democracy and then by the time we get to Reagan school lunches start being privatized and nutritional guidelines are more about ways to fudge the system (the juice in jam now counts as a fruit serving).  Building off the previous question, did you expect to see school lunches act as a sort of yardstick in this way?  What do these shifts say about how Americans think about race and class?  I think the book gets at these, but what else might you add?  Why is it that diet as a “cultural problem” continues to be part of the discussion about school lunch?

One of the things that intrigued me when I began to delve into school
lunch was finding out that the number of kids eating free lunch is being
used as a general measure of poverty – and a general eligibility count for
other federal benefits/program – and in some cases as a a proxy for race
in discussions of school re-districting.  One of the most interesting
things about school lunch is the way it combines the culture and the
politics of food.

And finally, what are you working on now?  Did School Lunch
Politics influence your new project?  How does thinking about food shape the way you approach writing history?

I’m now working on a history of international food aid – especially the
relationship between voluntary organizations (NGOs in the contemporary
period) and government policy – especially diplomatic strategies and
agricultural policies  – but also the development of ideas about
hunger/poverty and humanitarianism.

Let’s See What the Time’s Has to Say…

…as a way to gauge current opinion on school lunches.

Circa 2006, here’s one of the articles Levine mentions, “The School-Lunch Test,” about Agatston Research Foundation’s foray into school lunch reform.  (FYI: Arthur Agatston is the founder of the South Beach Diet).  It’s a long-ish read, but worth it, especially for the repeated mention of “crustables.”

Here’s one on the “Surge in Free School Lunch” complements of the economy, and the implementation of direct certification in 2004 where students are enrolled in free lunch automatically if their family receives foods stamps.  This article even has an interactive map!

And here’s a short one on the USDA.  They wanted to add more fruits and vegetables to school lunches, but were defeated by food industry lobbyists.  Tomato paste still counts as a vegetable though and cost trumps nutrition and health.  Here’s a follow-up article about those proposed rules, it seems the National Potato Council is still upset about the potato’s second class status, bringing us back to Diner’s book.

There are many more, but I’ll leave it at this for now so as to only potentially incur the wrath of the Potato Council.

School Lunch and America’s “fattest city”

A few years ago the CDC issued a report (link here) about behavioral risk factors associated with the leading causes of death in the US.  Some of the these included the number of permanent teeth a person had, their level of physical inactivity, and the presence of chronic conditions like diabetes.  Long story short, a media frenzy ensued and Huntington, West Virginia was dubbed the “fattest city in America,” based upon interpretation of the CDC’s results.  Cue the Appalachian stereotypes.

Enter celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and the magic of reality television produced by ABC.  If we look past the editing and conventions, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, is actually an interesting way to begin thinking about school lunch.  The premise of the show is that Jamie, having “revolutionized” school lunches in England is coming to Huntington to save them from the obesity epidemic.  I’m pretty sure most of the things he tried to put in place have long since been done away with, but that right there gets to one of Levine’s points, that school lunch is only partly about children’s nutrition.  In fact, Levine opens with the failed attempts of celebrity chefs to fix lunch.

Should you find some free time I managed to find the entire show (we’ll see how long it remains up).  The early episodes give visuals to the absurd nutritional guidelines, fat content, and prepackaged foods stored in giant warehouses—the “food” aspect—of school lunches, but they also touch on the larger significance of the school lunch program–the politics if you will, because try as they might, it can’t be avoided (and as always class is there, but never really acknowledged).




Supermarket Sweep


Does anyone else remember this show?



This might be interesting to come back to after we read Gilman: This is Why You’re Fat

I was also just thinking about the bit in Portlandia Season 1 with the cult leader/local organic farmer re: the obsession with food sourcing.  Which then led me to this.  How do we interpret freegans and dumpster divers?