Cape Town, South Africa

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Beginning of the End: Italia

The Beginning of the End … Italia

Hello to you! I hope you are happy, whenever this writing reaches you. If not, perhaps this video will cheer you up ;)

I went to the ABBA museum yesterday (it’s the only museum I can justify paying for!) and IT WAS AMAZING!! Here’s a video of me as the fifth member of ABBA - So I guess the new band’s name is… ABEBA? :D

Back to reality, and my day job. Today is the final installment of the Italian School Lunch Program - hence the name of this blogpost, “The Beginning of the End - Italia.” I am amazed at how quickly this experience is going by, and a little overwhelmed, too. When I first learned I got the Keegan Fellowship, I felt a wave of joy, then gratitude, and then doubt and anxiety. The idea of traveling abroad for a full year alone was nerve-racking. For awhile, I rode an emotional roller coaster of feeling complete self-confidence and empowerment, to feeling fear and hopelessness (“What if” questions are always my least favorite and least-productive questions).

But, I did it, and I am doing it. I am about 15 percent of the way into my fellowship, and am experiencing unprecedented levels of confidence and self-efficacy. Being self-reliant, curious about the unknown, and finding joy in moments of solitude have been incredibly liberating.

*Peaceful sigh*

I digress, onto the politics of the Italian school lunch program.

This post covers the “politics” of the program. I am using “politics” as an umbrella term to cover governmental oversight and the general political processes that I find noteworthy.

1. Complete decentralization allows for regionally-specific laws to be passed efficiently.

In March 2016, a Gallup poll found that only 13 percent of Americans approved of Congress. Over the last year, Congressional approval has fluctuated between 11 and 16 percent, as many Americans are frustrated by the inaction and perpetual impasse in Congress. Very little substantial legislation is passed by Congress since it is so polarized.

In the context of the US National School Lunch Program, passing laws for this program has become increasingly difficult. While passing regulatory laws (aka, nutritional content, where the food comes from) typically receives bipartisan support, the increased funding that is required often creates tension between political parties - aka, the budget is disagreed upon. In essence, it is difficult to pass lunch laws.

In contrast, the Italian school lunch program is decentralized to the point where regional lawmakers pass laws for their regions - there is no federal oversight. For example, Umbria passes laws for the Umbrian canteens, and Rome passes laws for Rome’s canteens. This has two direct results: laws are passed quickly (in comparison to the American program), and laws are more aptly fit to the region.  

Like US regional politics, regions in Italy are politically-distinct; northern Italy tends to be more liberal, while southern Italy tends to be more conservative. Sounds like the US, eh? ;) By having regional laws govern the Italian school lunch program, regional governments are better able to bypass the conflicts that could occur at the federal level.

Further, regional oversight results in passing laws that embody the region’s needs. For example, if Rome needs to reduce the sodium intake and Florence needs to increase the amount of organics in the program, these regional governments will pass laws to address these individual problems. You may think, “Are there really that big of differences between regional school lunch programs?” Oho, having been in Minnesotan and Tennessean/Virginian schools, I can give an emphatic YES. Haha.



2. The situation of the national school lunch program in governmental structure

There is a major difference between the positioning of the US and Italian programs in the larger governmental structure.  In America, the national school lunch program is housed within the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA “provides leadership on food, agriculture, natural resources, rural development, nutrition, and related issues based on public policy, the best available science, and effective management.” Wow, that’s a lot of things to “provide leadership” for! Cynics like me might say that the USDA gives subsidies to the wrong industries while providing inadequate resources for rural development, nutrition, and scientific research on our foods.

In contrast, the Italian school lunch program is housed in its Department of Education. The Department of Education’s mission is obviously to provide quality education to Italian children - pretty straightforward. Here is where I want to make my point - who “owns” the school lunch program can make a difference in the administration, financing, and success of the program.  All of the regulations, hiring, and organization of the school lunch program stem from either the USDA or the Education Department.

The USDA is filled with organizations and industries that go after the same subsidies - food manufacturers, food producers, and special interest groups are competing against the national school lunch program for funding. Hmmm … who has a lot of lobbying power? Every industry/program except the national school lunch program. This prompts the the question, who is able to advocate for additional funding for the national school lunch program if politically and financially-powerful entities are going after the same cash?

The Department of Education has less competition - all programs in the department are competing for money that ultimately benefits the children. A lack of private industries, as well as the mission of the department means the Italian school lunch program is better situated to receive additional funding and to persevere during tough economic times/budget cuts. Furthermore, I would argue that a department of educators ultimately care for students more than businessmen and scientists. This is not meant to be callous, but to be frank. The placement of the US school lunch program complicates its own welfare and proficiency.

Wow, I am done with Italy! It’s about time, eh? ;) Moving onto Finnish reflections next! Enjoy today, and peace to you all!


PS As a thank you for reading this far in my blog, here is a second video of me dancing with ABEBA!!

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