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Free For All: Fixing School Food in America

This in-depth look at the history and future of school nutrition programs asks many of the tough questions.

By Janet Poppendieck
University of California Press 2010, 387 pp.

Poppendieck, professor of sociology at Hunter College of the City University of New York, dissects the school food issue from historic, cultural, financial and political perspectives. Written for non-professionals, this exhaustive examination will also be of some value to school nutrition directors, many of whom probably know fairly little about the history of the School Lunch Program and the political dynamics that shaped it (or mis-shaped it) into its present form.

Of more interest will be Poppendieck’s final chapter, which articulates her conclusions and recommendations on how to go forward. It certainly asks the right questions: poor children or all children? Customers or students? nutrition program or food program? It is to her credit that she tackles these fundamentals head-on. Whether any particular reader agrees with her or not is another question.

This is not an easy read. The text is dense, the pages dark with long paragraphs and few subheads, nevermind graphics. And, truthfully, Poppendieck writes like you’d expect a sociology professor to write: matter-of-fact, workmanlike prose with few rhetorical flourishes.

But in the end, anyone who really reads this book intently will be much better informed for the effort.

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