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The Labor of Lunch

Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools (California Studies in Food and Culture #70)

Jennifer E. Gaddis


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Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (11/12/2019)


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?
The Labor of Lunch 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, Jennifer E. 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.


Praise For The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools (California Studies in Food and Culture #70)

The Labor of Lunch lays out how transforming the food culture in American schools can significantly improve both the lives of the country’s low-wage cafeteria workers and those of the millions of children they feed every day.”
— Quality Assurance Magazine

"Argues that universally free, from-scratch lunches turns the school cafeteria into a vital community resource: one that helps kids develop healthy eating habits and provides skilled jobs for workers."
— Tom Philpott

“When we think about the crumbling national infrastructure that holds our country back, Jennifer Gaddis argues that we need to look beyond bridges, broadband, and high-speed rail –– and see the urgency of bringing our nation's 100,000 school cafeterias into the 21st century. She's on exactly the right track. What if our nation's largest restaurant chain –– our 100,000 schools –– could be retooled as an engine for creating good jobs in our communities, building our local farm economies, and nourishing our kids with fresh-cooked food?"
— Curt Ellis

"A welcome addition to the growing library of works focusing on labor in the food system. This topic deserves attention and Gaddis is looking at the plight of an especially neglected group, the people who make and serve food to kids in schools. . . . Let grass-roots advocacy begin!" 

— Marion Nestle

"Gaddis addresses implicit biases the reader may hold about lunch ladies by guiding us through a richly-layered history of school food and labor."

— Boom California

University of California Press, 9780520300033, 312pp.

Publication Date: November 12, 2019

About the Author

Jennifer E. Gaddis is Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Society and Community Studies in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.