Each time I begin to make progress and feel as if my thoughts are coalescing into a concrete plan of how I will write my dissertation, I lose a bit of focus and momentum. I think this is only natural at this stage of such a major project. The key is twofold: to remain optimistic and positive, since I am very skilled at writing a focussed research paper, and to remember that this project is not overwhelming nor impossible. As long as I work each day and remain focused on the step at hand, I’ll make progress and work towards that ultimate goal. Whenever I lose a bit of focus or feel as if this is beyond my skills, I have to simply take a deep breath and realize that on the other side of this complete extra long paper is a career as a historian. There simply could not be a better time to be graduating as a historian focusing on the National School Breakfast Program. The iron is infrared hot, scorching, and I’ll be ready to jump into the debate about school food and food in America in general. That should provide ample motivation!

Today at the archives has been good, but progress has been slow. The main reason is because I have finally found the type of information I’m looking for, but in such an amount of files that it’s a real challenge to plow through them. Plus, I continually work as a fear sits in my mind, a bit of worrying that I’ll miss something major. I know that isn’t the case, as one file or paper is not going to break my project or toss me off of course. I just have to gather as much as I can and then formulate a quality paper from that material.

The great thing is that I’m finally finding material. As I collect it I can imagine and feel a structure coming together for the writing. It is as if I have the skeleton already in place, comprised by a concept of how I want my chapters to look and what my overall argument will be. Now I begin to fill in the body with materials from the archives; this is like the clay with which I could sculpt the body. I am beginning to see that school administrators were not always excited by the decisions emanating from the USDA. The conversation centers on efficiency, both in terms of serving so many children and doing it with the least amount of money. In all of my searching these past few weeks I have rarely heard the voice of reason concerning the food and health of the children. It is there, but the approach to insuring their health is often subjected to the reality of limited budgets. The constant chatter in the files is about maximum efficiency, rarely involving the health and well-being and diet of the children. Sure, it is not easy to feed hundreds of children on a small budget, or even thousands across one state, but the administrators and politicians get so caught up in the smallest details of the engineered foods that they forget the children would be better off with simply foods and more attention to their dietary requirements. It’s as if the government tried to fix childhood malnutrition in the halls of the Capitol building and the USDA attempt to fill the children’s stomach by inventing new foods. The attention should have been shifted towards healthy eating education, basic yet wholesome foods, and shaping a school environment where good food is a part of daily life.

Instead, the NSBP turned out to be poor food for poor kids. The program never seemed to have quite enough money, and what they did have was spent on analysis and reports and laboratory tests. What children needs is simple, basic food, as well as edition about what their bodies require.

The breakfast program also suffered from limited effectiveness because of the way in which the program was framed. Instead of being a program for all American children, it was aimed at “needy” kids. Maybe this was in fact code for “black kids,” and while they avoided an overtly racialized wording for the target group, they still created enough of a stigma for the program that it immediately had a major hurdle to clear: the NSBP was introduced to the market in a negative light, shaping how children reacted to the program and how parents, teachers, and educators did as well. By looking at the framing of the breakfast program, it’s clear that one reason it never fully developed into a success is because of the initial coding of the legislation.

 

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