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Free for All: Fixing School Food in America ( California Studies in Food and Culture #28)

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  142 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
How did our children end up eating nachos, pizza, and Tater Tots for lunch? Taking us on an eye-opening journey into the nation's school kitchens, this superbly researched book is the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of school food in the United States. Janet Poppendieck explores the deep politics of food provision from multiple perspectives--history, policy, nu ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 10th 2011 by University of California Press (first published December 5th 2009)
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Jul 25, 2011 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember how I stumbled upon the blog, Fed Up with Lunch, but it's a fascinating look into what one school district calls food. For the last seventy school days or so, I've read about one school's lunch and looked at the pictures posted. It's a horror show - no really. The 'food' doesn't resemble anything I'd eat, think about eating, remember eating, or would serve to my worst enemy. I've been out of school for over twenty years and had no idea that the nations' children - through school ...more
Dec 24, 2015 Debbie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew a lot about our food system, and a fair bit about our agricultural system. What I didn't know a lot about was how those two joined together into our school food program. Jamie Oliver was right: our school lunch program is broken - possibly irreparably so. However, he is also naive about just why it is broken and why it is not an easy fix.

Poppendieck explains how today's school lunches are the culmination of over a century of policy and legislation that were put into place for a variety of
This is a good book, but crazy dense and not a quick read. I learned a lot about the history of school food and the competing concerns in delivering it. I was happy to see that she covered all the reasons I wouldn't eat in the cafeterias a student, and still won't as an adult who works in the public school system. I know my district likes to say that it makes good, yummy food, but it simply isn't true. I love her examples of systems that work and her suggestions for change based on her research ...more
Feb 17, 2011 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, 2011
I was very excited to finally get a chance to read this book. There isn't any earthshattering new information in here for me. I was pretty surprised that one of initial reasons for the National School Lunch Program was as a response to the US military's concern that soldiers were malnourished in WWII. The reason I was surprised was because just last year, the military was concerned that recruits are too fat, out of shape, and unable to meet health requirements. If the military's needs were able ...more
Oct 14, 2010 Dina rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Alright, so I skimmed through a lot of this and bailed out early. Truth is, if you're pretty well versed on the state of food these days, the agricultural laws and outcomes of those laws that got us in the mess we're in, there's not a ton of new info to get out of this book. Most notably, the history and laws pertaining to school food specifically were a departure from the more generalized food-centric books I tend to read, as well as the mess that is keeping school lunches in line with the tang ...more
Margaret Sankey
Whatever Jamie Oliver says, better school lunches are not simply a matter of districts being willfully ignorant, or Americans just being addicted to tator tots and nachos. Poppendieck picks apart the myriad and overlapping restrictions, reimbursement, regulations and legal constraints on school lunches, not to mention the economics of allowing soda machines for sponsorship, farm subsidies, the low status of "lunch ladies" in school budgets and the resulting deskilling, peanut allergy complicatio ...more
Chris Aylott
Sep 10, 2011 Chris Aylott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoughtful exploration of the immensely complicated school lunch system. Sociologist Poppendieck shows how the program tries to meet the often conflicting interests of farm subsidy programs, educators, anti-hunger activists, and -- oh yeah -- kids. The system doesn't work particularly well, but it's impressive that the system works at all.

Poppendieck makes a solid case for giving breakfast and lunch to all kids regardless of income. Yes, it'll cost more, but more kids will get fed (especially th
Lo La
Nov 25, 2013 Lo La rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent. There's so much good info about why school lunches are the way they are. Its well written. I liked her vision of what the National School School Lunch Program should be and why and she makes a compelling argument for it. She even estimates how much her proposed program might cost and puts that cost into perspective, which not every writer would have bothered to do. I only wish she would've proposed some solutions for where that budget could come from. I know that's not what the book i ...more
May 04, 2011 Alison rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is extremely informative, and at times extremely depressing! Only because I would like to know HOW we fix our children's school lunches... and it doesn't give a clear answer, but if there was a clear answer I think we'd give that a try, right? Anyway, nutrition is a huge issue in the US, especially with children and childhood obesity, diabetes etc., and Poppendieck explains how the breakfast and lunch programs came to fruition, how they work now, or rather how they don't work, and her ...more
Adam Rabiner
Aug 15, 2012 Adam Rabiner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book if you are interested in school food. However, it is not a casual read. The writer is a professor of sociology at Hunter College whose academic focus is on hunger. The book is very comprehensive and covers the history, politics, and technical nature of the school food system (procurement, nutrition requirements, economics, etc.). It's accessible to the general reader or casual concerned parent but perhaps it is a bit overkill and it's really those who are school food reform adv ...more
Apr 01, 2011 Gwyn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
There have been a lot of very good food issue-related books published lately, many following in the footsteps of Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Free for All is not one of them. This is not to say it is a bad book, but it is written by a university professor accustomed to writing scholarly articles, rather than a journalist accustomed to writing words for the masses, and this is abundantly clear in Poppendieck's prose. If you are strongly interested in the issues she discusses, this is ...more
Oct 17, 2015 JC rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-firsttime, kindle, 2015
This was an interesting read and look at school lunch. I had a couple of interesting discussions with my wife as I read this book (she grew up in Russia so didn't understand how we feed so much crap to our kids). I can't believe that I would eat pizza basically everyday in high school, but I did. I barely touch pizza now. Also interesting to hear what different things are being tried. I think that free lunch for all kids would be ideal, but I get the hard part of this. Anyways, interesting look ...more
Apr 05, 2012 Diana rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Well researched history of the evolution of food service in American schools, from its origins on a local level, the involvement of the government as a way to bolster farms and avoid surpluses, and the growing pains of a system caught between a social welfare concept for children and a business that must treat them as consumers. For all those wondering how our cafeterias became so broken, why we can't just have healthier foods in our schools, or those who are skeptical that what we have can even ...more
Aug 15, 2011 Bookworm rated it liked it
An interesting look at food in American schools. This looks at school lunches in various aspects, including sociological, educational, physical and mental. It was interesting to see the effects of what the lack of food has on academic performance, personality and overall well being on a student.

It was a little tedious though, and arguably comes across as more of a textbook than anything else.
Oct 11, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book until the last chapter, when Poppendieck got very political with her recommendations (though to be fair, she pointed out that she didn't have all the answers and wasn't as well versed in tax reform, for example, as she was school food issues). This book was extremely thorough - to the point of being at times too dense - and really made me think.
If you're not familiar with school food, this is a good and thorough overview of the entire system complete with historical and political detail, student memories, and interviews from school food workers. Poppendieck is passionate about food and social justice. Her writing is clear and well organized, but at times, a bit repetitious and long-winded.
Apr 21, 2011 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been working on this one for a while, but it gives such an great history of school lunches, and shows what it has become today. I'm hoping Poppendieck will provide some suggestions on policy changes at all levels of government and school administration, but I think she may avoid that and only try to explain how it is, rather than what it should be.
Feb 19, 2011 Jodie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
Yes, this is an academic title and as such not as thrilling or as easy to read as a novel. I still gave it four stars because it helped me to see beyond my own school to what school lunch is other places and what it could be. IT has made me a believer that the National school lunch program needs to change from the ground up.
Kathryn Colasanti
Jan 11, 2011 Kathryn Colasanti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Poppendieck is a great person to journey with through the world of school food. She's honest with her readers about her own reactions and conflictions and knowledgeable enough to clearly present the topic's many dimensions.
Apr 25, 2011 D rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-studies
I really great primer on the political and economic forces that have shaped school food into the systems we have today.
Jun 26, 2010 Barbara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustive study of school lunches.... useful if you're writing a series on the subject, but heavy stuff for personal reading.
Aug 15, 2011 Kay rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Janet Poppendieck is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College, City University of New York. She is the author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America; (University of California Press, 2010); Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement (Penguin, 1999); and Breadlines Knee Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression (Rutgers University Press, 1985).
More about Janet Poppendieck...

Other Books in the Series

California Studies in Food and Culture (1 - 10 of 49 books)
  • Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices
  • Eating Right in the Renaissance (California Studies in Food and Culture, 2)
  • Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
  • Camembert: A  National Myth (California Studies in Food and Culture, 4)
  • Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism
  • Eating Apes (California Studies in Food and Culture, 6)
  • Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet (California Studies in Food and Culture, 7)
  • Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (California Studies in Food and Culture, 8)
  • Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine
  • Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World

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