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Amy McMullen

Amy McMullen
Gold Canyon, Arizona, USA
January 01
Amy McMullen is an activist for human rights, social and economic justice and a blogger and political essayist currently residing in Arizona. Her main interests are anti-racism, immigrant rights, LBGTQ equality, health justice and women's rights. She has worked to remove the worst of the anti-immigrant, Tea Party politicians from office in Arizona and advocates to get progressives elected. Amy's former incarnations include back-to-the-land counter culturist in the 70s, small business entrepreneur, Bed and Breakfast proprietor, charter boat captain, EMT, medical assistant and rehabber of distressed homes.. She currently volunteers for the Phoenix Urban Health Collective as a street medic and is on the board of a new nonprofit devoted to providing free medical care for the uninsured and under-insured in Phoenix. Amy's writings on social justice and other subjects appear in Truthout, Salon, Addicting Info, The Tucson Sentinel, The Pragmatic Progressive and on her blog at Open Salon.

Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 23, 2012 10:33AM

Dropping Out of School Lunches

Rate: 9 Flag

School Lunch 8x10 

 An Arizona state senator is sponsoring a bill to allow public schools to opt out of the federal school lunch program.

As reported in

“A bill introduced by Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, would allow schools to drop out of the National School Lunch Program.

The federal program gives public schools money and food and requires them to serve nutritionally balanced meals. Children whose families fall below certain income thresholds qualify for free lunch or lunch at a reduced price.

Arizona has a state law that requires K-8 district schools to participate in the program, although high schools and charter schools are exempt.

Crandall said the idea behind the legislation, Senate Bill 1061, is to make sure all schools are treated the same.”

 The article also stated that Crandall’s motivation behind this bill was based on a worry that new federal lunch requirements will hurt schools financially.

When asked about how poor kids would fare under this bill, Senator Crandall  pointed out that children who attend schools that scrap the school lunch program may have to change schools if they need free lunches.

While we may feel some sympathy that actually serving healthy food to kids may cost a bit more for Arizona’s already cash strapped schools, the idea of passing legislation to allow for the elimination of those meals altogether is a prime example of throwing the baby out with the bath water.

It has also been revealed that Senator Crandall is the president of a company that oversees USDA child-nutrition programs on behalf of state agencies but he has stated, “If I were looking for a benefit, I would never run a bill to allow people to opt out of the school lunch program.”

So, in case you are as baffled as I was as to why a senator with obvious ties to school lunches appears to be trying to eliminate them, let me explain.

It all goes back to the new government regulations that are being mandated to make school lunches healthier, including serving fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.  Along with this requirement, there is a six cent increase per lunch allocated to cover the additional costs of the lunches.  Obviously Crandall isn’t pleased with this amount and it can only be surmised that his goal is to eliminate the federal school lunch programs in the state, which opens the door for lunch providers to go in as a cheaper alternative to serve less healthy foods to kids.

After all, who needs fruits and veggies when Tater Tots and corn dogs will do?

But of course schools could also choose to opt out of any kind of free lunches altogether as this bill is presently written, though the head of the largest teachers’ union in the state wants language inserted that will require free lunches to be served to qualifying students in public schools that opt out of the National School Lunch Program—with the local taxpayer instead of the federal government picking up the tab.

This bill’s irony is further emphasized by the fact that Arizona is in the top five states where children are going hungry.  According to an important new study by Feeding America and reported by ABC News, childhood hunger is a stunning reality in the US with over 17 million, or one in four children currently suffering from food insecurity.  Food insecurity is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as lack of food availability in sufficient quantities on a consistent basis, lack of access to food for a nutritious diet, and lack of appropriate knowledge of basic nutrition and care.

With the proposed federal budget cuts to other food aid programs like WIC, millions of our children are simply going without food during their important developmental years.  With younger children affected by a slowing in cognitive development and older kids unable to concentrate on their work,  childhood hunger leads to poor academic outcomes.  In other words, dropping out of a school lunch program has a very real potential to increase the dropout rate in schools.

On the other side of the food insecurity equation is the fact that many kids are not eating good foods. Food deserts, defined as “A community in which residents must travel at least a mile to buy fresh meat, dairy products, and vegetables,”  exist in most cities and rural areas.  There are a whopping 23.5 million Americans living in food deserts who can only obtain and afford foods that are loaded with fat, sugar and highly processed ingredients.  Whether food deserts or just poor food choices are at fault, childhood obesity is rampant and many formerly adult diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are now afflicting young people in epidemic proportions.  This carries enormous costs both to a child’s quality of life and to our healthcare system.

So any way you look at this, whether from a viewpoint of healthy lunches, unhealthy lunches or no lunches at all, this bill has all the makings of a cynical attempt on the part of one politician to maintain a status quo in poor nutritional choices for schoolchildren or– even worse– no food choice at all.   Furthermore, claims by Senator Crandall that kids who need free school lunches should simply seek out schools that provide them ominously smacks of school segregation based on economic need.

An obvious solution to higher costs of school lunches is to simply apply a fraction of the $600 million budget surplus that Governor Brewer has recently bragged about towards providing free nutritionally balanced lunches to all low-income children in public schools.

But somehow I don’t think that idea is going to fly in Arizona’s republican-held legislature.







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The food supplied by the government to schools is simply horrible for the children and not just the poor kids. No one eats it. As a teacher for over twenty years, I noticed that most of it went into the trash, anyway.
Thanks for writing this. I had no idea. It's kind of like our former Klein revamping education in NYC then taking an incredibly high salary with a company he paid millions to while working in NYC.
This makes me so mad that I can't comment intelligently. Child hunger is a real problem. School lunches are the only reliable source of food on a daily basis for some of these kids. I know the nurse at our son's school actively worries about some of our kids during the summer, fearing that they won't have anything to eat. What is wrong with these people??
I applaud this piece. School cafeterias used to provide -- well maybe not haute cuisine -- relatively edible meals when I was a kid in California, Hawaii, Washington and Arkansas. They weren't wonderfully home cooked smelling things, but they weren't bad for you.

Now, it's tater tots, hamburgers with starchy buns, no condiments (you know, those pesky veggies called lettuce, tomatos and onions) and I can't recall the last time I saw kids eat apples, bananas, oranges or carrots (heaven forfend) as part of their meal choices.

I used to go to the school where my daughter went and eat lunch with her. I ostensibly did NOT go to McDonalds, Jack-in-the-Box or other places like that and bring food in. We either ate right there in the cafeteria or I made sandwiches and brought in a "home lunch" just like I used to eat as a kid.

Oddly, the crowd of other kids grew around us when I brought out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or turkey and cheese, all excitedly expressing they wished they had a sandwich like that...

I love kids, they are so obvious and not coy about expressing what they'd like. I wasn't there to show the kids what a good or healthy meal was like, I was there spending time with my daughter during a divorce and custody battle.

I had my eyes opened to the really horrible descent into poor nutrition and crappy food in our school cafeterias on the whole though. You know the budget isn't large and they don't hire the top of the class cooks, chefs and nutritional experts to run the cafeteria at a public school. And the food? Hey, can you say, at least it's really, REALLY cheap?

Adam Smith would be crying if he saw what we had turned his ideas into. If I had my way, I'd take half the budget the military gets for bombs, missiles and bullets and spend that on making sure school lunches were offered to everyone equally, paid for when possible, but of a sound and nutritious design.

Nothing promotes learning better than a full belly, with all the nutritional requirements for a growing body. Books don't hurt, either, but what use is a book when a child goes hungry or deficient in their nutrition in the first place?

A healthy mind thrives on a healthy body; and children are the future of a nation.

Yeah. Why waste that money on children...especially poor ones...when we need that money for the job creators or to fund another war? Color me so angry I could spit glass. Obscene proposal...what the hell ever happened to the Golden Rule or to seeing children as worthy of our best efforts? growling ...rrrrr
As problematic as some school lunch programs are, for a lot of children school food is the only food some kids get. It's truly scandalous that in a country like ours we cannot feed EVERY child (not to mention every needy adult) healthfully. While the whole system needs an overhaul (anti-lobbyist style) the solution isn't to cut food for the neediest among us.
Can't you just give them jobs a school janitors? I mean, check their IDs first for the ones you can deport.