Friday, September 19, 2014

The Story of School Lunch: Competitive Foods in the Cafeteria

Over the past two summers Russell Library interns Ashton Ellett and Kaylynn Washnock assisted in curating the new exhibit, “Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch” opening September 26th in the Russell Library’s Harrison Feature Gallery. The exhibit examines the complicated past of the National School Lunch Program, from feeding malnourished children and putting excess commodities to good use, to the more recent debates over childhood obesity and nutrition in America. This post is one in a series where Ashton and Kaylynn provide a preview of key documents featured in the exhibition.   

Changes during the 1960s and 1970s resulted in a greatly expanded, more expensive school lunch program. School districts had to manage providing meals to more children, purchasing increasingly expensive food, hiring additional food service personnel, and expanding cafeteria facilities. As schools looked for ways to fund their growing programs in a deflated economy they turned increasingly to private partners.

During the Nixon administration, the passage of HR 14896 extended the provision for free breakfast and summer food programs. Another provision, however, that allowed for the “sale of competitive foods” in schools caused great controversy. While the sale of these fatty and high-sugar items would surely increase revenue, many citizens feared these items could negate the program’s original purpose—to provide American school children with access to a nutritious meal. According to Dr. John Perryman, executive director of the American School Food Service Association in Washington, D.C.:

Letter from Dr. John Perryman to Congressman
John W. Davis (Ga.) September 15, 1972

John W. Davis Papers, Russell Library.
"We have now opened the door to the sale of ANY food item to ANY child of ANY age in ANY school location at ANY time. We have further made the proceeds available to virtually ANY group, thereby assuring that never ending pressures will be brought upon school authorities to permit constant revenue-producing promotions. By the few words of Section 7 we have translated in a tragic number of instances, school food service from a child nutrition program into a money making gimmick."

Ultimately, the provision passed and competitive foods were allowed in the  nation’s schools. Debates over the lingering effects would continue for the next two decades as awareness of childhood obesity increased.

Want to find out more about School Lunch? Visit Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch on display in the Harrison Feature Gallery in the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries. from September 26, 2014 through May 15, 2015. The Russell Library gallery is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, email or call 706-542-5788

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