Document Preview
  • Citation/Abstract
  • Dissertation or Thesis

Fit to Feed: Labor, ecology, and the remaking of the National School Lunch Program

Gaddis, Jennifer E.   Yale University ProQuest Dissertations Publishing,  2014. 3582268.

Abstract (summary)

Over thirty-one million children eat federally subsidized lunches in U.S. schools each day through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Since its inception in 1946, the NSLP has been federally mandated to promote both the health of domestic agriculture and child nutrition. Drawing on eighteen months of qualitative fieldwork, archival research, and quantitative survey analysis, my dissertation examines the relationship between food systems labor and sustainability within the NSLP, which in many ways is a microcosm of the domestic food system. I use the critical perspective of political ecology to pose two questions: (1) When people who embody culinary capacity are forced out of production kitchens into a heat-and-serve paradigm, what are the impacts on the workers, on the product of their labor (i.e. school meals), and the food system at large? (2) How and to what extent does culinary capacity affect schools' ability to engage in alternative agri-food practices?

I present my thesis in three parts. I begin with a historical analysis in order to draw attention to how food systems are negotiated among actors, not predetermined, and hence can be renegotiated. The first two chapters, Act One, trace how the legal and financial frameworks of the NSLP, combined with the historical pressures of the Right to Lunch movement during the 1960s and early 1970s, led to the adoption and diffusion of pre-made heat-and-serve meals. The third and fourth chapters, Act Two, provide a historical and ethnographic account of the deskilling and devaluation of school foodservice labor, to illustrate the extent to which gendered ways of viewing the "job" of feeding led to a crisis in quality for the NSLP. The last two chapters, Act Three, analyze contemporary alternative agri-food practices within the NSLP, uncovering two main approaches: a set of industry-based substitutions that I term "Real Food-lite" and a set of community-based efforts to build culinary capacity in schools that I call "civic cookery."

Taken together, my data indicate that shifting to full-time (skilled) foodservice work helps improve the quality of school food, reduces the ecological impact of the NSLP, and has a positive economic and public health impacts on the communities they serve. Thus, a key message of this dissertation is that the social practices of agri-food laborers matter deeply for the sustainability of the food system, both in terms of the dominant industrial systems their labor maintains and in terms of their potential to engage in individual and collective action. From a theoretical standpoint, this research fills a critical gap in the food systems literature by demonstrating how the re-skilling of food production at individual and community levels is necessary for building resilience. This work also has direct policy implications. In the conclusion, I make concrete recommendations for legislative reforms that will improve children's health, enhance economic security for vulnerable populations, and foster ecological health and social justice in the food system.

Indexing (details)

Fit to Feed: Labor, ecology, and the remaking of the National School Lunch Program
Gaddis, Jennifer E.
Publication title
ProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Publication date
Source type
Dissertation or Thesis
Language of publication
Document type
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.