Districts Are Challenged to Find Local Food in the Middle of the Winter
An op-ed in the Birmingham Weekly contains an error that’s familiar to anyone following school lunch policy. It conflates “healthy” food with “local” food:
Currently each of these “funded” meals are allotted $2.57, which means that after you strip away labor, energy and overhead costs, schools have $1 per meal to spend on ingredients. This leaves schools and cafeteria managers challenged to find good, fresh, local ingredients to serve their students.
I might give local food advocates a pass on this if money were no object. If, for example, George Soros got the idea to donate $10 lunches to school students and he wanted to buy local, that would be his prerogative. In the real world, however, school lunches are subsidized by taxpayers. And, as the op-ed states, districts have limited resources with which to pay for food.
Districts need to put together the healthiest meals possible within budget constraints. If healthy, cheap produce comes from California, districts should buy produce from California — not from someone in Missouri who will charge more. When districts bring location into the equation and give local food preference over the healthiest, cheapest food from somewhere else, they’re sacrificing either food quality or economy. They’re shortchanging students or taxpayers — or both.
And the problems with schools choosing local food over other food go beyond finances. Some products can be obtained locally for a premium, but some can’t be grown nearby at any price. Should Missouri children give up oranges and bananas because they’re never local? What about fresh produce in the winter? Finding these items locally is indeed a challenge, and a challenge that districts won’t be able to overcome without changing the world’s geography or the nature of plant life.