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More Local Foods May Be Coming To School Cafeterias

As a new school lunch rule goes into effect, the cafeteria line will start to bear a little more resemblance to your local co-op.

Governmental Influence

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new initiative last week that will provide assistance to schools offering "unprocessed locally grown and locally raised agricultural products." By unprocessed, the USDA means foods that haven't been cooked or stuffed with preservatives. Freezing and slicing are perfectly okay, however.

It's a part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that President Obama signed last December. The bill is essentially a total overhaul of the school lunch program: no more whole milk, a pilot program to bring more organic foods in, some limits on what vending machines can stock, and an emphasis on nutrition education.

The bill gives the USDA the authority to set new rules on school nutrition, an issue the Obama administration has stressed.

Eating And Understanding

Some are skeptical, however. Alice Waters, the chef-owner of restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, said at the Atlantic Food Summit that just eating local isn't enough for kids.

"We should certainly try to improve diets by making school lunches more nutritious and by getting the vending machines out of the hallways," Waters said. "But we can't be sure that kids are even eating - let alone understanding - what nourishment is all about. Kids are wary of unfamiliar foods. Besides, they can always buy packaged junk before and after school."

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