California’s Budget Woes Equals Cuts on Our Children’s Plates

Yet again last night I found myself discussing the Nutrition Services budget for the Berkeley Unified School District. Berkeley has been extremely supportive in its efforts to bring healthy food to all of the students of the district. Over the past decade there has been support from parents, advocates, administrators, foundations, teachers, staff, school board members and the community at large – tremendous support! And yet as the state’s budget deficit widens, potentially even doubling, lunch ladies like me are being asked to cut and cut and cut again in an effort to help balance school district’s budgets; and all because of the state’s woes.

So much of the success of this country over the centuries has been predicated on the premise of our children having a better life than our own. Mothers over the eons have gone hungry to feed children – fathers have worked tirelessly to feed their children – as a nation we have always made the health of our children a priority – until now – it seems.

I do understand the need for the state to have a balanced budget, however with all of the money we spent as a state, I don’t understand in the least, the need to literally take healthy food out of the mouths of our children as a way to balance the budget. In the past year the state’s prison budget has ballooned to over $10 million, which exceeds the entire federal government’s budget for the National School Lunch Program (which feeds over 30 million children lunch each day) by more than 20%. At the same time, the state has reduced its contribution to school meals from 21 cents (apparently our children are not even worth a quarter a day), to basically nothing for the remainder of the school year.

Equating this to what’s on our children’s plates in schools means less fresh food and more processed; which equals less healthy children, farmers and planet. Most schools use the state reimbursement to augment the far too small federal reimbursement in an effort to serve children healthy food. In this vein, most districts are spending under a dollar per child per day for lunch – less than a dollar a day. To put this in perspective we just need to go to our favorite local coffee shop and buy a Vente Latte, for which we’ll pay close to $5, 5 times more than we spend to feed a child lunch. It’s crazy!

We need a change! We need to make our children’s health a priority! We need to come together as a community and demand that our legislators balance the state’s budget without cutting Nutrition Services; in fact we should be raising the state’s reimbursement rate. Come on, aren’t our children worth at least a quarter a day, and for the entire year, not just for the first few months of the school year.

And if we don’t?

The Centers for Disease Control has stated that of the children born in the year 2000, one out of every three Caucasians and one out of every two African Americans will have diabetes in their lifetimes. As unimaginable as that it, it gets worse, the result of this pandemic will be that this generation will be the first generation in centuries to die at a younger age than their parents.

So as our legislators try and balance the budget, as our legislators think about cuts that need to be made; perhaps we need to prioritize the health of our children and find other budget cuts besides the food on our children’s plates. As important as so many worthy expenses are that our taxes pay for – what could possibly be more important than our children and their future.

Published on: June 18, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Chef Ann Cooper
Chef Ann Cooper is a celebrated author, chef, educator, and enduring advocate for better food for all children. In a nation where children are born with shorter estimated life expectancy than their parents because of diet-related illness, Ann is a relentless voice of reform by focusing on the links between food, family, farming and children’s health and wellness.
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