Monday, October 02, 2006

school lunch, delivered, w/ a side of music ed

I had some real problems with that school lunches article in the Sept 4 issue. Ann Cooper was way too high handed and top down and the article wasn't quite critical enough of the real weaknesses of her approach.

Even if I agree (and I totally do) that we can identify "a list of undesireable ingredients - transfats, preservatives, and foods with too much salt, refined flour, sugar, or high fructose corn syrup" (74) and try and keep those out of school lunches and even if I agree (and I do) that processed foods will likely contain more of these things and that the federal govenment's dumping of less nutritious food products via this "commodity program" would be considered child abuse if it took place in a private home I still don't feel like Cooper's on the right track. The article is worth reading for this brief "commodity program" history, a forthcoming book (mentioned) by one Janet Poppendieck of Hunter College is probably even better.

But I mean, how is it a good idea to insult the people you work with and use foul language to describe the expectations of the people - the students - you work for? It's hard not to understand Cooper as essentially disrespectful.

Add to that, her attempt to feed the kids spelt and veggie pizza. It sounds like she tried to take that failure to heart. But to force food onto a child's plate does nothing. And how stupid is it that she's the taster?

The ability to make informed choices about what one eats is a kind of power. Cooper has this power. Children, rich or poor, do not. For more people to have access to this kind of power all their lives, the schools Cooper works for (and I know, she would consider this beyond her reach) need to teach nutrition and if they can do it in the lunchroom, even better. They need to make nutrition something you can learn, something you can research, a skill, like reading, that everyone can use and not just a list of facts, a habit, like lining up, a practice, like taking turns.

At most elementary schools the student have chores, right - table washer, paper passer, line leader. And these are, in best case scenarios, assigned via fun little brighly colored charts or systems. And children learn a sense of responsibility that they take pride in. How about a chart or system or sense of responsiblity for fruits and veg and meat and milk? I mean, I'm sure this is a naive example, but it's a model for trying to think about nutrition as something other than a boutique gift Cooper forces down the throats of her students. (The author Burkhardt Bilger sort of dismisses the idea of educating taste out of hand, but he's clearly from another planet because if you can't educate taste, what can you educate?)

My very favorite New Yorker thoughts on education came, not from the education issue, but from Dorothy Wickenden's October 2 Talk, she basically points out the dangers of the sad fact that "the financing of education for the less well-off, like so much else these days, is being increasingly left to the vagaries of the private sector." (36) Summing up two strong points, charity is basically unempowering and education is a right.

Intrepid blog searchers will find that EL has inspired me to think a bit about nutrition in the last few months - Would it make science education more accessible? Is good food a right or a pretense? Or, on the other hand, could it supplement sex ed? Or PE? And other tasty and sustaining questions . . .

As for Alex Ross on music education, he misses the low hanging fruit (and/or slow moving meat) . . . The case for music education: anything that kids can practice teaches them discipline, anything they can learn and improve gives them self confidence, anything that can be recognized by the outside world gives them a sense of accomplishment and, finally, some power to make choices and determine their futures. Music, sports (in certain cases), nutrition . . . baton twirling, you name it.

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Blogger Professor Zero said...

I was visiting my parents in SF when that article came out, and we all laughed. Our favorite part is that the writer thinks this woman is living 'nearby' (in this rented beach house 'way down the peninsula, so she has to get up at 3:30 AM to fight traffic to Berkeley). Somehow both writer and menu planner seemed a little out of their element, even if one agrees (and I do) with the general idea of good nutrition, and understands the budget problems involved with school lunches...

Anyway, Alice Waters is apparently organizing menus in some New Orleans schools as well, one of which has a huge organic garden now. It will be interesting to see how that all goes.

8:53 PM  
Blogger zp said...

I was also underwhelmed by author Bilger's personal aside, "Why it can't it be just like when I was little and visited France?" Cuisine? Agribusiness? Educational policy? For starters.

That the US policy is called a "commodity program" might give Bilger a clue . . . commodity, as in, processed food products whose value bears "absolutely no connexion with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom." Actually, that is a very interesting quotation in terms of nutrition . . . and I'm sure someone has looked into this.

3:36 PM  

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