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Cafeteria reform

(article, Culinate staff)

As Corby Kummer noted recently on the Atlantic's food channel, school-lunch reform is easiest when, say, you tackle things like getting rid of soda machines or banning bake sales. Much tougher is the source of the meals most kids eat at school every day: the cafeteria.

Kummer proudly announced that his home state of Massachusetts has done some cafeteria trailblazing lately, by promulgating a set of rules for all school cafeterias. The rules are remarkably straightforward: No added sugars in drinks. Bread and grain products must be whole-grain. Fresh fruits and veggies must be available. And the real shocker: clean drinking water must be available, for free.

Why is clean water such a hassle? Because, especially in our recession-stricken times, maintaining school facilities is a real challenge — and that means school water fountains don't always work. As Tom Philpott pointed out recently on Mother Jones, many school districts are responding to budget crises by cutting as much as possible — including, he sighed, Philadelphia's decision to get rid of 26 school kitchens, leaving Philly with hardly any public schools offering a freshly made meal and teaching kids that frozen-and-reheated industrial food is, well, real food.

As Kummer and Philpott both lamented, the feds are moving so slowly, if at all, on real school-lunch reform that it's up to local districts and states to do something about the problem. Sam Fromartz, on Chews Wise, recently lauded the efforts of D.C. locals to fund a public-school teaching kitchen, ponying up $30,000 in less than two days from a myriad of tiny donations.

Marion Nestle also noted on the Atlantic that real change is happening in the corporate world — specifically, at Google, where tech money and a culture of constant food have combined to produce cafeterias that emphasize healthy food. How's that? Well, for starters, the healthier food is cheaper than the junk — an inversion on the usual pricing at the corner mart. Plates are small and snack foods come in tiny packages (two cookies instead of six, for example). And oh, yeah, the company provides bicycles. 

Now if only school districts were funded as well as Google . . .