The Politics of Fat: Food and Nutrition Policy in America

By Laura S. Sims | Go to book overview

Case Study 1
Reinventing School Lunch:
Attempts to Transform a Food Policy
into a Nutrition Policy

This case study vividly describes policy making in the food system through the story of a "reinvention" of the fifty-year-old National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The narrative illustrates the power of history and the force of tradition in administering food assistance programs, the successful deployment of grassroots pressure channeled through powerful interest groups, and the dramatic role of "personality" politics. Further, the analysis examines the various forces that spring to life when long-standing regulatory policies are challenged and how the effects play out for the consumer—in this case, schoolchildren.


Description of the Key Issues

Overview of the National School Lunch Program

The largest and the oldest of all child nutrition and food assistance programs is the National School Lunch Program, permanently authorized in 1946 through the National School Lunch Act and created by Congress as "a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food." 1 That same premise—feeding schoolchildren while supporting agriculture—remains a grounding principle for the National School Lunch Program today but also has served as the basis for rancorous disputes and conflicting policies regarding its operation.

Administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Food and Consumer Service (FCS) (formerly named the Food and Nutrition Service [FNS]), the National School Lunch Program is administered at the state level by the state department of education and usually at the local level by the school district administration. 2 All public schools are automatically eligible to participate in the program, and it is voluntary in private schools. Almost all public schools (99 percent) and the majority of private

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