As I write this editor’s letter at the beginning of June, I am in the home stretch of packing daily lunches for my daughter to take to school. As you read this in late August, I, like many parents, will already be back to the grind of trying to plan lunches that will both nourish my daughter and excite her enough that she actually eats what I pack. School lunches, as we all know, are a simultaneously fascinating and disturbing microcosm of the various power dynamics that exist among children, parents, schools, and other social observers and critics.
Most often, critical commentaries on school lunches have focused on the nutritional aspects of what children are eating: Are children eating “healthy” foods? Are they getting enough to eat? Are their meals prepared at home from fresh ingredients or in an institutional setting from mass-produced ingredients? A prevalent secondary concern has been whether children are knowledgeable about the foods they are eating: Do children know where their foods come from? Do they have personal experiences with planting, picking, or preparing the foods they eat? Collectively, such concerns with school lunches have pushed health to the top of the list as the most important aspect of children’s midday meal.
But what else might school lunches tell us?