Baldwin Award: Lunch Ladies as change agents

Lunch tray filled with healthy meal

Every day, all across the United States, more than thirty-one million children eat federally subsidized lunches, thanks to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Started just one year after the end of World War II, the NSLP has been federally mandated to promote both the health of domestic agriculture and child nutrition. Recently, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) legislation extensive changes to the NSLP in order to improve the nutritional profile of school meals, yet ignoring the the role “lunch ladies” play in shaping children’s food preferences.

The bulk of the program’s $11 billion annual budget is spent on foods of minimal nutritional and gustatory quality. Most contemporary school kitchens serve pre-made and high processed industrial foods that travel long distances through complex commodity chains in order to reach children at school. Despite the fact that they see the children every day on the lunch line and learn the likes and dislikes of “their kids,” lunch ladies typically have little control over the composition, sourcing, or preparation of school meals.

Dr. Jennifer Gaddis seeks to cultivate lunch ladies as community-based leaders who are inspired and committed to making healthy, farm-to-school meals the norm in their local cafeterias. Using peer-to-peer story-telling, this project aims to encourage lunch ladies in Wisconsin, and across the country, to reclaim school cookery. Anticipated outcomes include creating an easily accessible online library of video testimonials from lunch ladies who are already leading school food reform efforts, thereby recognizing their efforts, increasing the viewers sense of personal and collective-efficacy, and building a community of practice where novices can learn from those who have gained valuable experience.

Assistant Professor in Civil Society and Community Studies, Jennifer Gaddis will lead the project with assistance from doctoral student in the Department of Educational Psychology, Claire Berezowitz.

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