Covid-19 put school lunch in flux, as cafeteria trays were reconceptualized as brown bags and meal boxes. USDA waivers freed school cafeterias from former limitations about who they can feed and what food they can serve. Previous episodes have covered the effect of these waivers on accessibility and school funding. Today, with the help of The Counter writer Sam Bloch, we investigate how the trajectory school food has been heading in for the past decade was dramatically altered during the pandemic when rigorous nutrition standards were rolled back in response to growing need and supply chain challenges. Many pediatricians, public health experts and parents are growing concerned about potentially rising rates of childhood obesity, which often has lifelong effects. However tensions run deep in the debate about how to balance nutrition with concerns about hunger, accessibility and personal taste, leading to ethical questions about the role of privilege and the right to healthy food. 

This episode is produced in collaboration with The Counter – a nonprofit, independent, nonpartisan newsroom investigating the forces shaping how and what America eats. 

Read Sam’s article about school lunch and childhood obesity here.

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Empty Cafeteria

This project is funded in part by a Humanities New York CARES Grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the federal CARES Act. 

This program is also supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

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