Free for All:
Fixing School Food in America (California Studies in Food and Culture)
by Janet Poppendieck
University of California Press
$27.50 List Price
When I was an elementary and junior-high school student in Arizona in the 1970s, the school lunch calendar was always a harbinger of fun meals to come: made-from-scratch Salisbury steak, baked chicken, spaghetti with meatballs, or tamale pie ladled out by smiling lunch ladies in hairnets and washed down with little cartons of fresh-tasting, ice-cold whole milk. We all got a lot of exercise back then; I was always hungry. I ate everything on my tray, even the peas, carrots, corn, or (God forbid) brussels sprouts, and I passionately loved the fresh-baked rolls and brownies, the Mississippi mud cake. The smell of my long-ago school cafeteria comes back to me with a sense of nostalgic childhood pleasure: It was the smell of balanced meals made with wholesome ingredients by cooks who knew what they were doing. I handed my pink free-lunch ticket over in blissful ignorance of any stigma: Almost all of us in my school were dirt-poor, Mexicans, whites, and American Indians alike.
This happy scenario took place thirty-five or more years ago. Not having had kids myself, I had no idea how severely and depressingly things had changed in public school cafeterias until I read Janet Poppendieck's meticulously researched, patiently explicated, potentially groundbreaking book Free for All. Something has gone seriously awry, or rather, many things have, and Poppendieck takes her reader along a brisk, matter-of-fact trajectory from the rosy dawn of school lunch in the early 1960s through the increasingly labyrinthine bureaucracy, itself fed on lavish corporate subsidies, that now controls