Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pg. 99: Susan Levine's "School Lunch Politics"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Susan Levine's School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America's Favorite Welfare Program.

About the book, from the publisher:
Whether kids love or hate the food served there, the American school lunchroom is the stage for one of the most popular yet flawed social welfare programs in our nation's history. School Lunch Politics covers this complex and fascinating part of American culture, from its origins in early twentieth-century nutrition science, through the establishment of the National School Lunch Program in 1946, to the transformation of school meals into a poverty program during the 1970s and 1980s. Susan Levine investigates the politics and culture of food; most specifically, who decides what American children should be eating, what policies develop from those decisions, and how these policies might be better implemented.

Even now, the school lunch program remains problematic, a juggling act between modern beliefs about food, nutrition science, and public welfare. Levine points to the program menus' dependence on agricultural surplus commodities more than on children's nutritional needs, and she discusses the political policy barriers that have limited the number of children receiving meals and which children were served. But she also shows why the school lunch program has outlasted almost every other twentieth-century federal welfare initiative. In the midst of privatization, federal budget cuts, and suspect nutritional guidelines where even ketchup might be categorized as a vegetable, the program remains popular and feeds children who would otherwise go hungry.

As politicians and the media talk about a national obesity epidemic, School Lunch Politics is a timely arrival to the food policy debates shaping American health, welfare, and equality.
Among the early praise for School Lunch Politics:
"With School Lunch Politics, Sue Levine has served up a rich plate on which the histories of food, public policy, childhood, and social reform come together in complicated, intermingling ways. The result is a capacious and balanced book about the elusive quest for an equitable society and a balanced meal."
--Daniel Horowitz, author of The Anxieties of Affluence

"School Lunch Politics tells the fascinating history of the National School Lunch Program, which officially began in 1946 and continues to this day. This is an important book and will be valuable for many audiences. It should receive attention not only from historians (especially historians of twentieth-century social policy) but also a broader audience interested in the current obesity crisis and the commercialization of public life. Any reader of Fast Food Nation will love this book."
--Robyn Muncy, University of Maryland
Read the introduction and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Susan Levine is professor of history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her previous books include Labor’s True Woman: Carpet Weavers, Industrialization, Labor Reform in the Gilded Age and Degrees of Equality: The American Association of University Women and the Challenge of Twentieth Century Feminism.

The Page 99 Test: School Lunch Politics.

--Marshal Zeringue