There’s a problem with school lunch in America. Big Food companies have largely replaced the nation’s school cooks by supplying cafeterias with cheap, precooked hamburger patties and chicken nuggets chock-full of industrial fillers. Yet it’s no secret that meals cooked from scratch with nutritious, locally sourced ingredients are better for children, workers, and the environment. So why not empower “lunch ladies” to do more than just unbox and reheat factory-made food? And why not organize together to make healthy, ethically sourced, free school lunches a reality for all children?
Jennifer E. Gaddis' new book The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools
(University of California Press, 2019) aims to spark a progressive movement that will transform food in American schools, and with it the lives of thousands of low-paid cafeteria workers and the millions of children they feed. By providing a feminist history of the US National School Lunch Program, Gaddis recasts the humble school lunch as an important and often overlooked form of public care. Through vivid narration and moral heft, The Labor of Lunch offers a stirring call to action and a blueprint for school lunch reforms capable of delivering a healthier, more equitable, caring, and sustainable future.
In this interview, Dr. Gaddis first describes her experience conducting fieldwork in multiple public school cafeterias across the United States. Gaddis then reviews her book’s discussion of current state of school lunch and cafeteria work in American public schools, activism related to school lunch and cafeteria workers, the role of care and care work in the practice of serving school lunch, and how the structure of the National School Lunch Program magnifies and supports existing class and racial inequalities.
Jennifer E. Gaddis
is an assistant professor of Civil Society and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. You can find her on Twitter @JenniferEGaddis
Krystina Millar is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University. Her research interests include gender, sociology of the body, and sexuality. You can find her on Twitter at @KrystinaMillar.