The New York Times ran a barnstormer of an opinion piece this weekend detailing how the contracting out of school lunch to management companies and food processors has affected nutrition, wages, and even standardized test scores.
Lucy Komisar, an investigative reporter funded by a progressive media organization, details how the USDA purchases $1 billion of commodities -- meats, produce, dairy -- every year designated to school lunch, and how almost half of that food is then given over to food processors, who turn it into chicken nuggets and fries that cost triple the price of the raw ingredient and strip out their nutritional value. More and more schools in turn are dismissing their cafeteria staff in favor of these prepackaged meals. As Komisar writes:
Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found in 2008 that Michigan schools that hired private food-service management firms spent less on labor and food but more on fees and supplies, yielding "no substantive economic savings." Alarmingly, he even found that privatization was associated with lower test scores, hypothesizing that the high-fat and high-sugar foods served by the companies might be the cause.
Not surprisingly, the food processing companies that sell the lion's share of school lunch foods -- Aramark, Sodexo, even ConAgra -- take in enough money to sway the democratic process; they were behind last month's notorious congressional ruling that pizza sauce is a vegetable. So, if overprocessed pizzas and non-specific-meat nuggets aren't cheaper or better for kids, why is that we're spending so much money on them?