If you’re low on things to be mad about, I’ve got an article for you. But if your blood pressure is already high, maybe you should pass.
The article, which appeared in the N.Y. Times a couple of Sundays back (Dec. 3, 2011), describes how companies that provide food for school lunches are getting rich turning simple, healthy ingredients into junk food. How can this be? In “How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid’s Lunch,” investigative reporter Lucy Komisar explains all, in an article packed with relevant stats and useful links. I’m giving no more than a summary here.
The National School Lunch Program provides free and low-cost surplus food to schools, which then provide free and reduced cost meals to students across the U.S. But according to Komisar, the program has been hijacked. The numbers are astounding, the practices outrageous, and the accounting minimal.
Running the Numbers
The National School Lunch Program
– provides low-cost or free meals to about 21 million students.
– costs $13.3 billion a year.
– in Michigan convert free ($0) chicken worth $11.40 a case into nuggets worth $33.45 a case.
– in San Bernardino, Calif., convert potatoes worth $5.95 into French fries worth $14.75.
And one last statistic:
– One-third of children from the ages of 6 to 19 are overweight or obese.
How it Works
Instead of cooking the chickens, potatoes, and so on in their own kitchens and setting the apples out as–well, apples–many schools send the whole lot off to be processed into nuggets, french fries, and pastries. Then, (apparently) they buy it back, at great cost to the program, and to the delight of the processing companies such as Aramark (Philadelphia), Sodexo (France); and the Chartwells division of the Compass Group, (Britain) which load the original ingredients with sugar, salt, and fat–just the things our young people most need.
Except it isn’t precisely the schools that send the food off and then buy it back, because many schools, desperate to cut costs, farm out the meal programs to management companies. (Yes, it’s the middle man.) And guess what? Those management companies get “rebates” for signing contracts with the processing companies. (Funny; these rebates sound a lot like kickbacks. Legal ones. Mostly: New York just won a $20 million settlement against Sodexo for not sharing the rebates with the schools. Now the US Dept. of Agriculture is investigating.)
It’s obvious that these practices would injure students’ health. But as Komisar makes clear, they also cause a host of other problems. They reduce local control over school meal plans, and they move food jobs from unionized to non-unionized workers. Not only that, but it appears that they may lower students’ test scores.
There’s one thing they don’t do. They don’t lower costs.