Badly Needed: Seattle-Area School Food Programs

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I know I wasn't the only person shocked to find out that schools in the Seattle area routinely deny children hot lunches, or even any lunch at all, if their parents can't or won't pay the school lunch fees.

Beyond the totally senseless cruelty of embarrassing a child before his or her peers, these sorts of policies highlight failings in educational policy and regional governance.

The links, after all, between nutrition and educational achievement and classroom equality and educational achievement are extremely well-proven and non-controversial in the reality-based community. Kids who are well-fed and treated with respect do better in school; kids who are hungry and bullied or embarrassed are far more likely to fail.

The moral necessity of giving every kid a happy childhood -- or at least an even break -- when it lies so easily within our power shouldn't require explanation, but in case we're unmoved by morality, the coldly pragmatic arguments are pretty rock-solid as well. We live in an age where education is absolutely fundamental to economic competitiveness. If we wish to succeed as a region in a time of both increasing globalization and increasing global instability, having as educated a citizenry as possible is fundamental. What's more, the diminishing options of the under-educated mean they are far more likely to require state spending -- whether entitlements, emergency services or jail expenditures -- than their better-educated peers. From a simple dollars-and-cents perspective, investments not only in education but in the things that support education (like nutrition and child safety) return handsome dividends for the community as a whole.

What's more, in the case of hunger, we actually know how to provide every kid with healthy food at an affordable cost. Most countries' school systems feed their kids (including many in the developing world, where school feeding is an unquestioned success story). Farm-to-classroom programs, schoolyard gardens and innovative educational programs like the Netherlands' Kinderkookkafé can not only provide better food than is often available now to even the wealthiest Seattle public school kids, but also teach life-skills in how to eat well.

And though spending much more on school lunches is a very good idea, better food isn't prohibitively expensive. Indeed, Washington state schools waste extraordinary amounts of money buying bad processed food through complicated and inefficient corporate purchasing networks. A recent P-I special series reported that while educational underfunding is a serious issue, some of the biggest barriers to change are bureaucratic.

There are solutions -- look, for instance, at Food $ense or Farm to School Connections, which we profiled recently. We can do better.

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