Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa
Serving it up at Manenberg Primary!

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Italian School Lunches and Culture: Part 2

Hey everyone! I hope you're having as great of a day as my dog, Henry, is! It was National Dog Day yesterday, so I had to post a picture of my #1 fan/friend.

[There are several things I miss about home, but he may be the largest - he doesn't understand Skype!]

This is the second installment of the "Italian School Lunches and Culture" posts - if you haven't read my first post, check it out here.

When reflecting on the differences and similarities between American and Italian culture as it relates to school lunches, I have narrowed my focus onto two main points - here they are below.

A similarity between programs: Lunches as a rejection of fast/processed food trend

There is an interesting health phenomenon occurring in Italy right now: obesity and overweight rates among adults remain relatively low (around 40 percent, in contrast with America's 68.6 percent), while childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing. Among OECD countries, Italy has the second highest rate of childhood obesity. The International Association for the Study of Obesity show that 36% of boys and 34% of girls aged 5-17 are overweight or obese in Italy. To contextualize that statistic, the US obesity and overweight rate hovers around 30 percent for boys and girls.  

[Worldwide obesity statistics among adults in 2013 ... unfortunately, Italy is not included in this graph.]

This prompts the question, what has created this generational difference in obesity levels in Italy?

Here's a video that provides an answer:

Processed Foods in Italy and America

"Bon appetito, con Coca-Cola." Oh, Coca Cola. Similar to the United States, Italy has been swarmed by the processed industry and its advertising agencies, catalyzing a processed food dependence in the country. In the late 2000s, Coca Cola, McDonald's, and other processed food companies launched intensive ad campaigns in Italy, specifically targeting children. Though there are likely other factors that contributed to Italy's processed food consumption (i.e. women entering the workforce, globalization and urbanization, etc.), the processed food campaigns worked. Over time, the child's diet shifted to energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods; a study showed that "Mediterranean countries were eating about 30 percent more calories by 2002 than they had been 40 years earlier, and these calories included larger amounts of sugar, salt, fat, and refined carbohydrates."

This sounds quite familiar to American readers. The availability of cheap, fast, and processed foods has also significantly contributed to our obesity epidemic. 

[Typical supermarket in America: aisles covered with processed foods.]

In the midst of a similar obesity epidemic, the US and Italy have both used their school lunch programs to combat childhood obesity and to lower consumption of processed foods. Indeed, Italy is a little (Okay, a lot) further ahead than the US; back in 2001, the city of Rome passed a regulation that banned processed meals (think of the frozen chicken nuggets or burger patties that are heated up and served) and invested more money into buying locally-sourced, organic foods for school meals.  The US is slowly catching up - several policies have been proposed recently that would increase the number of fresh vegetables and fruits while decreasing the amount of simple carbs and sodium.  Both of these programs are trying to disrupt the fast-food culture of American and Italian youth, and reestablish a natural, wholesome diet in the youths' lives. 

Contrasting School Lunch Options: a Reflection of American individualism 

Look at this American lunch line below, and what do you see?

You're probably thinking, "Bananas? ... Fruit? What is there to look at, Erin?" 

Well, the answer is options. A child could pick up an apple, a banana, an orange, a fruit cup -

Again, what's the big deal?

In studying the Italian school lunch program, I have learned that the myriad options served in an American lunchroom are not ubiquitous around the world. In Rome, there is a single meal served everyday (my last blog post includes menus if you're curious), nothing else. Obviously, allergies and necessary accommodations are made, but otherwise, you get what you get! Silvana Sari, the School Food Director of Rome in 2011 - who was credited with the massive overhaul of school lunches - said that she didn't agree that students needed to have so many options: "Abroad they ask me, why can't your children choose? They think it's a democratic right to have choice."

This surprised me; is America known for prioritizing choice? My personal observations have affirmed this while in Finland, I have noticed that restaurants offer much fewer options than American restaurants, coffee shops have fewer "flavors" ... And when I looked back at the American lunch menu, I realized that there were multiple choices for lunch everyday - but is this truly a reflection of America's culture?

Academia would say "yes!" Americans value choice - we love options, and often associate a plethora of options with freedom. Barry Schwartz, professor of social theory and social change at Swarthmore College, found that "personal and religious freedom became irrevocably tied to economic freedom from the monarchy and early capitalism" (TED). Personal autonomy - the right to be an individual and have individual rights - bled into the economic sector, predisposing Americans to expect choices in almost every situation (and lots of them!). 

Image result for salad dressing choice ted talk\
[Barry Schwartz, giving his TED Talk - it's a fascinating talk, give it a watch here.]

Though it may seem like normal for school lunch programs to offer choices, could you imagine the converse? "Only grilled chicken for lunch? But my child doesn't like chicken." In Italy, the response would be, "Sorry, that's what is on the menu." I doubt an American parent would stand for this :)

To a certain extent, the amount of choice in the American National School Lunch Program stems from the values that America is known for: individual liberty and choice. 

What do you think? Do you see the connection between American values and the lunch program? What does that say about Italian democracy, if so? So many questions, not enough time to answer them in!  

Kiitos ("Thanks!" in Finnish) for reading, I am ever so grateful for your support and curiosity.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Italian School Lunch Program: Cultural Nuances Part 1

Hello, everyone! G'day from Helsinki, Finland!

[The beautiful Lutheran Cathedral in Senate Square, Helsinki]

However, as you can see from the title of my blog post, I am not talking about Finland today - I still have to share about the Italian school meal program! I've been struggling to figure out how to best relay this information in a digestible (pun intended), cohesive format, so thank you for your patience! The more I learn, the harder it is to encapsulate in a blog post.

So, that is why I am publishing my findings in a series of posts, rather than a single post. The number of posts will depend on the country and my circumstances, but keep your eyes out for upcoming posts.

I have one disappointing piece of news regarding my research in Italy. School had not started while I was there, so I was unable to take any photos of their lunches. However, to make up for this, I have pulled images from a few documentaries, as well as the menus for Rome's cafeteria.

[A cafeteria in Rome]

Before we jump in: General information about Italian School Lunches

I wanted to start this section off by saying, "Italian school lunches were served starting in [insert date here]." It seems like a great introduction. 

Hmph. I can't, though.

There is no specific date for when school lunches started, though it is documented that over 50 Italian municipalities were serving meals in the early 1900s (Bryant, 2009). The unspecified start date of the program stems from the structure of the program; it is financially and organizationally decentralized, meaning that everything is run by individual school districts. Rome's public schools serve completely different meals, at different costs, with different regulations than Naples, or Milan, or Lucca. I will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of this structure in an upcoming post - but first, I want to talk about culture!

Italian food culture: "Bringing back" Italian children to their cultural roots

When you hear the words, "Italian food," what comes to mind? Pasta, pizza, gelato, or perhaps bruschetta. What comes to mind when you hear "American food?" Well ... hamburgers or hot dogs? 

Before we jump into the food culture of Italy, I want to establish a working definition of "food culture." Almerico (2014) writes that "food studies looks at people’s relationships with food ... [to] expose a group or a person’s beliefs, passions, background knowledge, assumptions and personalities" (3). The foods we consume - as well as the foods we do not consume - emit personal and cultural messages. Food culture takes a more macroscopic view of this relationship, as it examines the specific relationship between national identity and food.

Look at this typical menu for Rome's school lunch program, paying close attention to the type of food that is being served. 

Almost all of these menu derive from Italian culture. In contrast, look at the menu items for K-8 Culpeper County (VA, my old middle school):

[If this image is too small to see, you can view their full-size menu here.]

During the week of August 15-19, Mexican (Burrito w/Salsa), Italian (Spaghetti with meat sauce), Asian (Asian chicken w/Rice), and of course, "American" cuisine is served. This highlights a key distinction between Italian and American food cultures; when comparing Italian and American menu choices, it becomes clear that Italy has a more-clearly defined food culture than the United States. Italy's national identity is more tightly bound to its cuisine. This does not make Italian lunches/food culture "better" or "worse" than American lunches/food culture, but it does have several meaningful consequences.

1. A well-defined food culture allows for more educational opportunities in the lunchroom.
As mentioned above, Italian lunches are dominated by its own cuisine: pizza, pasta, cannoli (my personal favorite!). These foods allow for a history lesson to be inserted into every meal. In Rome's program, every month in the school year is devoted to learning about the historical development of a specific region and its food. For example, October highlights Naples's history and the development of pizza, which hails from Naples.  This transforms the typical time spent eating - in America, we think of the lunch hour as taking a "break" from school, for kids to socialize, etc. - into a social and educational opportunity. 

Image result for italian flag food
["Italian Flag Salad"]

2. Lunches reestablish and perpetuate Italy's national identity. 
School lunches send cultural messages to their students. This may sound similar to the point I made above, but I want to focus on what is not being served for lunch in Italy - namely, foods that are indicative of other cultural backgrounds. Approximately 9 percent of Italians (5 million people) are foreign-born, though the actual number is likely higher with the increase of refugees arriving from Syria, according to the Consulta Nazionale Emigrazione. Though I could not find statistics on how many foreign-born children there are (or first-generation Italians), it is safe to assume it is sizeable.  When children from different cultural backgrounds - as well as Italian-born children - step into the lunchroom, they receive a crash course in Italian culture vis-à-vis food. This is not to say that Italian governments are insidious and want all children to assimilate to Italian culture and values. But, the lunch menu sends latent messages over what is considered "authentic Italian food" and what is not. 

I will continue with Cultural Nuances Part 2 shortly - keep a look out for it! I'll just leave you with this picture; yesterday I was in Tallin, Estonia, which is known for its beautiful architecture in the old city. But I had been aimlessly walking around and didn't see any beautiful architecture ... it looked like any typical city! And then BAM! I turned a corner and saw one of entrances to the Old City:

[Tallin, Estonia]

Amazing, right?! So beautiful. If you are ever near the Baltic states, PLEASE GO TO TALLINN! :) 

Cheers to you, have a wonderful day!!

Almerico (2014). Food and identity: Food studies, cultural, and personal identity. Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies, 8, 1-7.

Bryant, L. (2009). School feeding; Its history and practice at home and abroad. BiblioLife.

Link to Consulta Nazionale Emigrazione:

Monday, August 22, 2016

School Lunch as a Vehicle for Discriminatory Practices

Greetings from Helsinki, y'all! 

[Helsinki is a BEAUTIFUL city, with a theme park and Ferris Wheel in its city limits. That's pretty neat!]

Earlier in my blogging, I posted about two of the contributing factors that helped establish the National School Lunch Program - if you need a refresher, see here. Today I am posting about the remaining factors, which all have to do with more "social" issues in nature. So, here we go!

"Local Custom" for States: Discrimination against Black and low-income children

When President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946, he said that "No nation is any healthier than its children."  While this quote suggests that the US tried to improve the diets of all American children, the NSLP only provided specific populations with free lunch. 

Let's go back in time to 1940s America.

[Oklahoma City, 1939: the sign alludes to the racial segregation and discrimination present in the US]

1940s-America was extremely racialized and segregated, with Southern schools still following the "separate but equal" principle. This intense discrimination translated over to the NSLP, as the National School Lunch Act only received bipartisan support when state governments were given all of the power over the program, allowing Southern states to discriminate against its students. When the bill was debated in the mid-1940s, Southern senators demanded that "local custom" be prioritized in the NSLP. "Local custom" referred to decentralization, or allowing state officials to have complete autonomy over the program. This would allow each state to have its own "local custom" in the NSLP ... which meant discriminatory practices for Southern states, as state representatives selected which schools received funding for lunches.

A few Congressmen tried to use the NSLP to fight against segregation. New York Senator Adam Clayton Powell proposed an anti-discrimination clause to the bill, requiring that the federal government monitor the program and penalize states that supported segregation. However, Powell garnered little support; the more popular belief was that an anti-discrimination clause would "destroy our (Southern states') separate school system and ... force Negro equality upon us" (Mississippi Representative John Elliot Rankin). Southern Congressmen did not want to participate in the NSLP if it required desegregation.

[Oh really, every child?]

So, for the next 20 years, senators allocated money towards White, upper-class school districts while allocating none to Black, poor districts. The decentralized structure of the program allowed for racially-segregated states to “lawfully” deny lunch to Black and low-SES children. In essence, this rendered the NSLP ineffective for a long time; the program served as a false provision for those most in need, because the neediest children received no lunches. 

This was rectified in the 1960s, granting all children access to lunch. However, I want to briefly note something historically significant (ok, I really want to say, "cool") that came out of discriminatory lunch practices: The Black Panther Party.

[Black Panther Party Poster]

The Black Panther Party was a Black nationalist and socialist organization that started in 1960s - read more about them here. Its founding was motivated by two main principles: Police brutality against Black people (Interesting - and disheartening - how history repeats itself, huh?) and discriminatory lunch practices. Due to the lack of school lunches, the party started serving free breakfast to Black children in Oakland, California. The breakfast program "formed the party's central organizing strategy and stood as its most enduring legacy" (Levine, 140), and filled the bellies of over 20,000 students daily. While the Panthers should not have needed to serve children in the first place, it provided extra fuel for the Civil Rights Movement.  

I'll be posting about Italian school lunches very soon - the information I've learned has been so vast, that I've been trying to structure it in bite-size pieces (hehe, so punny) for you all. Thank you for your patience!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Nutrition Fact Labels from around the World: Italy

Last summer, I worked as an intern at Preston Taylor Ministries, and incredible non-profit that serves youth in the Preston Taylor area of Nashville, TN. I taught nutrition and health lessons to a group of fifth graders, although sometimes we ended up goofing off and getting a little crazy ;)
[Here are are some of the fifth graders I worked with, they were so fun and lively!]

One of the lessons we worked on extensively was reading a Nutrition Facts label properly. The Nutrition Facts label can be really difficult to decipher; none of the vocabulary is explained (what is cholesterol, after all?), the percent daily value is confusing, and the label is based on only one type of person - the 2,000 calorie-a-day sized person. My PTM kids did their best to understand the label, and how to use it to make nutritious food choices.

[American Nutrition Facts Label]

This mini-series of blog posts will compare nutrition fact labels to American ones - perhaps there will be differences between labels, perhaps none? Well, let's jump in with the Italian nutrition facts label!

This label comes from Vivi's Biscotti Frollini, which are digestive biscuits reminiscent of a Girl Scout shortbread cookie. Here is what they look like:

[These are so delicious, so addictive!]

Though there are obvious differences between the labels (i.e. the layout, language difference, the calculation of kilo joules instead of only calories), there are two key differences I want to highlight. The Percent Daily Value (or "% Assunzioni di Riferemento per Porzione") is listed for protein and sugar on Italian nutrition facts labels, but not on American labels. On the Biscotti cookie label, the %DV for protein and sugar are 6% and 11%, respectively. On American labels, the %DV is not listed. These two discrepancies boil down to the same reality: the powerful presence of Food Industry in the American government and diet.

[How I picture lobbyists in my mind]

The sugar lobby, also called "Big Sugar," spends millions of dollars every year to hide the detrimental impacts of sugar on the American diet. Without going too far into detail on the adverse impact of sugar on the body, sugar consumption is positively associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Nothing new about this, these findings have been supported by research since the 1970s. However, Big Sugar has succeeded in hiding this information and creating doubt about sugar's negative impact on health. Big Sugar has paid for "shady" studies that provide counter-evidence to science's claims, and has "persuaded" (threatened?) US Congress and the World Health Organization to not set upper limits on sugar intakes. In 2010, the WHO drafted a recommendation for %DV to be listed for sugar in America and Canada - but this recommendation was removed from the agenda after US Congressmen (who were financially supported by Big Sugar) demanded the WHO take it off the agenda.

Thus, American Nutrition Fact labels are without a %DV for sugar; they were blocked by the industry.  And holy buckets, does this make a difference. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 37.5 grams of sugar per day, and 25 grams for women. If %DV were recorded for sugar, then Coca-Cola drinkers would learn that a 12 oz can of Coke (40 g) is over 100% of a man or woman's daily allotted intake of sugar.


Education leads to empowered and informed choices. If an individual knew he was consuming a drink with 100% of his recommended intake of sugar, perhaps he would make a difference choice. Perhaps he would not - but restricting access to easy-to-understand information robs an individual of his choice to make healthy, informed decisions.

Good news? the %DV for sugar will be added in 2018. Read about it here. Huge shout out to Michelle Obama for all of her efforts.

I'll briefly talk about protein, which also does not have %DV on the nutrition facts label. The reason behind this is opposite to that of sugar: the protein industry does not want an individual to know how much protein is sufficient for the American diet, encouraging this obsession of needing more protein. 

Without sounding too dramatic, Americans are obsessed with getting enough protein. I held a vegan diet (no animal products, only plant-based foods) from June 2015 until April 2016.  When I shared that I was vegan with acquaintances, the most common - often worried - question I received was, "How will you get enough protein?"

The average American eats twice as much protein as recommended by the Food and Nutrition Board. Eating excess protein can harmful or beneficial, depending on its sources. But who is at fault for the lack of %DV on the American Nutrition Facts label? The protein lobbies. If individuals are not aware of the amount of protein needed to stay healthy, the meat-packing industry benefits - especially since we consume more protein than necessary!


For information on the politics of sugar, check out Sugar Coated (available on Netflix), a documentary that plunges into the history of sugar in America. Or, if you're short on time, this Canadian documentary also paints a morbid, but realistic, picture of Big Sugar. I would start at 32:00, continue until 40 minutes in.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Wait, eggs cost THAT much? The Transformation of the Poverty Line

Hello everyone!

I hope this writing finds you in a place of peace and fulfillment. I am writing from the kitchen of my hostel, nibbling on toast with fichi (fig) marmalade and butter.

I'll be posting the final factors that influenced the development of the National School Lunch Program very soon, but first want to share an interesting nugget of information I learned about the other day. Don't worry, it's related to food and socioeconomic status (which is the epitome of the national school lunch program, right?).

This post is about the transformation of the primary contributor/indicator to the poverty line - from food to housing costs. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I worked at a legal aid firm that served clients in subsidized housing. From this work experience as well as from earlier volunteer experiences in Nashville, TN, I have become quite aware of how housing costs are a primary - if not the primary - contributor to poverty. It is generally known (and set by various housing acts passed by the US government) that individuals should not spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on housing. Spending over 30 percent often translates to inadequate funds for food, transportation, and other important needs (and less important needs, we all need to enjoy gelato every once in awhile...).

[Flavors here: chocolate raspberry and "American Peanut Butter." Why is peanut butter American, do you ask? Europeans consume less than a tablespoon of peanut butter a year - it simply isn't a part of the European diet ... which isn't great for me, who used to eat two jars of peanut butter a week...]

At my legal aid internship, I pulled data from MN court cases from 2014-2015 (Don't worry, this is public information - you could look this up as well!), and learned that a significant number individuals are spending over 60 percent of their income on housing.  When I looked into this further, a 2016 Harvard study showed that "the number of cost-burdened households rose by 3.6 million from 2008 to 2014, to 21.3 million ... [and] the number with severe burdens (paying more than 50 percent of income for housing) jumped by 2.1 million to a record 11.4 million" (Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, 6). Over 30 million Americans spend more than they should on housing, which places them at a higher risk for falling below or hovering at the poverty line. With less affordable housing being built and wages staying largely the same, I would argue that housing cost is the primary contributor to poverty.

[It also does not help that the rental properties being built are targeting people of higher SES. I've seen this in my hometown in Rochester MN; there are tons of houses and condos being built, but few of them are affordable for someone who makes minimum wage.]

However, it wasn't always that way.

Prior to the mid-1960s (and continuing on past the 1960s), the American "market basket," or the cost of basic food staples, indicated one's SES. Housing costs were less influential, as "the line between self-sufficiency and dependence for many families lay in the price of food" (Levine, 120). Can you believe that?!

In fact, the US Census Bureau created a formula to determine the poverty line - and the threshold was calculated at three times the cost of the minimum food diet in 1963 (Institute for Research on Poverty). This formula was used throughout the 20th century, and was only recently changed (as in, the last few years. Crazy, eh?).

This transformation is simply fascinating .. from one right (the right to have a home) to another right (the right to eat). I wonder what could take the place of housing in the future ... perhaps water (looking at you, Cali)?

PS - I had a really neat moment last night. I was getting gelato (I swear, I don't only eat gelato) with my friend, and while we were sitting on a bench, this very old woman (talking 80+ years old) slowly walked over and sat down next to us. Ten minutes after she sat down, I had this strange bout of coughing - I couldn't stop, and I had just finished my water. How I felt:

After 30 seconds of coughing, the old lady turned to us and said so softly, "[something in Italian I couldn't understand]." My friend responded by asking her to repeat, and instead of repeating herself, she reached into her bag and got out a honey lozenge for me. She beamed at me after I took it, and continued to speak with us. Good thing we all spoke German :)

[The honey lozenge given to me]

I am deeply humbled and gladdened by those moments when I am in a tough spot and am given a free, kind gift. Those gifts can come from anywhere - from a neighbor, a friend, or a total stranger who has an extra honey lozenge in her purse. I hope you can experience one of these gifts in the coming future - or, could start the trend by giving one today. 


Levine, Susan (2011). School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America's Favorite Welfare Program. Princeton University Press.

Institute for Research on Poverty.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Does it always come back to communism?!

Greetings from Roma! This wraps up my first week abroad, wow!! I hope you are doing well wherever you are in the world, and that it isn't as hot as it is here. At 34 C/92 F (I'm learning Celsius and the metric system, it'll be awhile before I'm back in the US...), sometimes it's too hot to think... so the only solution is to eat gelato!

(Gelato with ricotta and figs. SO GOOD!!)

Besides eating gelato, I have had the amazing opportunity to explore around Roma and meet some great people. Aaaaand, I've had some time to do research, and want to make a few posts contextualizing my project even further.

How did the National School Lunch Program Develop?

This is the photo that greets you when you log onto the National School Lunch Program website. Though this picture may exist somewhere (since when does a lunchroom have such vibrant lighting, racial diversity, beautiful looking food, happy children?), no politician from the 1940s would have fathomed that the NSLP would turn out like the picture above. 

The NSLP had a complex, arduous, and nonlinear development. 

Does that strike you as odd? It did for me. The NSLP was a constant in my childhood, as though nothing could shake the ever-prevalent meals that I ate. However, in actuality, the NSLP endured ideological debates, it greatly fluctuated in the number of children it served, and was even called "one of the most dangerous bills that has ever been brought to the floor of the House" (John Taber, a US congressman) ...

... Okay, was it really that dramatic?   

(President Harry Truman signing the National School Lunch Act in 1946, with congressmen behind him).

Though there are numerous factors that influenced the emergence of the NSLP, I will be discussing two of four major factors that contributed to the establishment of the National School Lunch Act of 1946 - and contributed to the drama and tension around this program. 

1. Great Depression and the Start of Farm Subsidies
Though the official bill was passed in 1946, the beginning of school lunches can be traced back to the Great Depression era. The Great Depression brought economic ruin to the United States, and threatened one of the country's most vital industries: farming. The farming industry was already experiencing economic downturn due to World War I; farmers had rapidly increased production to fit the agricultural needs of Europe (It's hard to farm when bombshells are hitting your fields, eh?), so the end of the war brought an abrupt drop-off of agricultural exports. This left farmers with excess supply of farm goods and little demand. Once the market crashed in 1929, farms were in even greater trouble: a farmer produced hundreds of pounds of corn and potatoes, but had no one to sell them to. 

In order to protect the farmers from foreclosure, as well as feed the thousands of undernourished families that were affected by the Depression, FDR created farm subsidies and buy-backs. The government purchased farm goods and delivered them to schools, creating a program that "was shaped by a market-based model of surplus commodity disposal even more than on theories of nutrition or plans for children’s welfare" (Levine, 40). The government subsidies and buy-backs were beneficial for farmers and children ... but in reality, the subsidies were directly intended for the farmers, and the children were a secondary benefit. The prioritization of the farming industry over children's nutrition lasted into the mid 1970s, and the farming industry fought tooth and nail to retain its benefits. (This is tangentially related, but these subsidies are a key player in creating "Agribusiness," the powerful agricultural, meat and dairy industries that have great power and stake within the USDA. I'll post about this later, but the NSLP is housed within the USDA, which has created big problems for funding due to Agribusiness lobbying for funds.) 

[A Great Depression lunch room. Oftentimes, since the government bought back agricultural products that were "suffering" the worst (had the lowest market value), children would often have lunches that entirely consisted of onions or beets or olives. Could you imagine eating only onions for lunch?]

Yum. *Cringe*

2. Communism and Patriotism


While the US's historical context definitively played a role in establishing the NSLP, international history and politics were also highly influential. Cue blog post title. As conversations about providing school meals circulated, the post-WWII fear of communism gripped the world. 

Within the context of the Red Scare, the NSLP was a source of worry - yet a source of confidence and patriotism - for Americans. When Congress discussed the details of the School Lunch Act, the question of control was a direct response to communism; many Congressmen feared that giving control the federal government, also called "Washington interference" during this time, could lend to much centralized power and lead to an American communist government.

[John Taber (left), a US Representative from NY, was one of the most vocal Congressmen about communism and the NSLP. He thought of the NSLP as "one of the most dangerous bills that has ever been brought to the floor of the House."]

As a result, Congress refused to pass a bill that gave the federal government control over the NSLP. States were granted oversight of the program This created huge problems for the NSLP, as there was no governmental funding and no enforcement of equitable practices. No enforcement meant that states could discriminate against its students and selectively give lunch to specific school districts. I will continue this topic in my next blog (that states used the NSLP to discriminate against and withhold lunches from Black students and poor students), so stay tuned.  Altogether, the fears of communism predisposed the NSLP to be a highly decentralized program.

On the other hand, the NSLP was perceived as a symbol of patriotism. Presidents Truman believed that "no nation is any healthier than its children," and used the NSLP as a major combatant against communism. Nixon, an avid supporter of the NSLP, said that communism could be defeated with "kitchen appliances." While I mentioned above that communism succeeded in stifling the NSLP in its inception, it also provided an emblem of American strength: if American children have strong bones, they'll have strong minds and bodies to fight communism.

(He looks ready to fight, 'Murrica!)

The NSLP was caught in a double bind. It served as a symbol of American patriotism and success, implying that it adequately provides for its children; but its decentralized nature prevented the program from serving the children that desperately needed food.

More to come soon on the two remaining factors that heavily influenced the development of the National School Lunch Program. :)

On a personal note:
Roma has been an incredible time so far, full of kind-hearted folk, both native Italians and travelers alike. Earlier today I went running in the Villa Borghese, and on the way home, I stumbled on a cobblestone (typical Erin) and struck my knee into the ground. It took me a moment a get up due to the pain ... and I was embarrassed to have slammed to the ground like a sack of potatoes...

But when I looked up, a most gentlemanly Italian asked softly, "Stai bene?" Though this seems completely normal, I was incredibly grateful for his kindness. I thanked him, and kept running. On the run back home, I thought about how this question fit in with travels so far:

"Stai bene, Erin?"

And I would say, in a terrible Itali-American accent,

"Io sono buono, la vita è grande, ed è una benedizione di essere vivo."



This is a GORGEOUS church that I randomly ran into (almost literally, took a corner too fast. Perhaps I should've seen the cobblestone injury coming...).