University of Vermont

College of Arts and Sciences

Hunger and School Food Scholar to Speak at UVM

Jan Poppendieck
Hear Jan Poppendieck speak about why school meals should be free for all, March 26 at 4 p.m. in the Davis Center. (Photo: Dan Z. Johnson)

What if Vermont could address childhood hunger and support our local agricultural economy in one fell swoop? Reforming our state’s school lunch programs may be just the ticket. Janet Poppendieck, a nationally renowned scholar on hunger and school food, comes to UVM Tuesday, March 26 to speak on "Universal Free School Meals: The Key to Better School Food." The event will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Livak Ballroom in the Davis Center at UVM. The event is free and open to the public.

Poppendieck is professor of sociology at Hunter College, City University of New York, and the author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America (University of California Press, 2010), in which she outlines the problems and inefficiencies with the National School Lunch Program and proposes universal free school meals regardless of family income level as the solution. Statewide anti-hunger organization Hunger Free Vermont is building a coalition to advocate for just such a model in Vermont. Coalition partners include Vermont’s strong Farm to School Network and School Nutrition Association.

Despite recent progress, 27,000 — or one in five children — in the state lives in a food insecure household. Although schools offer free and reduced price lunches to low-income students, many eligible students do not participate, and participation can be stigmatizing for students who do. Additionally, the administrative costs of operating a three-tiered school meal program are significant.

Poppendieck will outline how providing free meals to all students will help schools, improve student education, behavior and health, and support Vermont’s farm economy at the same time. Hunger Free Vermont Executive Director Marissa Parisi hopes that this collaboration between nonprofits and UVM’s Food Systems and Women’s and Gender Studies Programs will jumpstart the movement to make Vermont the first state in the nation to provide universal school meals. “It’s time to fundamentally transform the school food system, so that we can end childhood hunger, and transform health and learning outcomes for the next generation,” says Parisi. “As is so often the case, I believe Vermont is the state to lead the way.”

Poppendieck is featured in A Place at the Table, a new documentary about hunger in America. Her other books include: 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). She won the James Beard Foundation's Leadership award in 2011 for her work on poverty, hunger and food assistance.

The event is co-sponsored by UVM Women’s and Gender Studies Program, UVM Food Systems Initiative, UVM Food Systems Master’s Program, Hunger Free Vermont, VT FEED and Shelburne Farms.

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