School lunches need to get better, they argue. They need to be designed with proper nutrition in mind. The right amount of calories, more fruits and vegetables. Proper nutrition for kids will cut their disease rates as adults.
Proper school lunches are about the prevention of disease, and about economic competitiveness in the long run. So argue the lunch ladies.
But that's not how the system works. (Picture from Wikipedia.)
In practice school lunches are designed around budgets. Parents around the country are having trouble paying even the pittance most school lunches cost. Even using government surplus fats, carbs and proteins, there's a growing gap between what lunches cost and what we pay for them.
Yes, we're talking about your pocketbook.
School lunches come out of school budgets. Public schools are part of what made America great and they're under threat from all sides.
For the sake of nutrition, or just to get by, lunch ladies want taxpayers to fork over more dough. The health of our kids is at stake, they say. As the twig is bent the tree is inclined, and kids who don't eat right now will become overweight and stupid in later life, unable to provide the economic oomph needed to get baby boomers through retirement.
Some will doubtless say screw it. Screw the lunch ladies, screw the public schools, screw the kids. Let them get jobs and make their own way. It's their choice. Freedom.
But that's not the American way.
It was the United States that pioneered free, universal public education. All those Horace Mann Elementary Schools you see by the roadsides were named for a real person. That's his picture at the top of this post.
School lunches may be the canary in the coal mine of a larger problem, but it's one that is not going away. How we deal with it will determine how we deal with the larger crisis.
That larger crisis, in a word, is wellness. And that crisis is fueled by a contest of values, the long-term values of Horace Mann and the short-term values of the recent past.
You will see that contest played out in our attitude toward school lunches. My guess is this will result in an interesting talkback thread.