School Lunch and Univeral Access to Food

Not only does Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey oppose universal access to healthcare, he also explicitly opposed universal access to food and shelter. As he said last week in his anti-universal healthcare op-ed:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges.

We All Have Rights to: Housing, Health Care, Education, Living Wage, Food.Yes, how can we say people should have universal access to healthcare and not also food and shelter? Millions of people in the U.S. are hungry or otherwise food insecure and/or homeless or living in substandard housing. So obviously people's needs are not "best provided" by "market exchanges." In fact, far from being "beneficial" the marketplace is inherently oppressive since by design it denies people equitable access to meeting their basic needs.

Given Mackey's opposition to universal access to food, it was interesting to read in The New York Times that Whole Foods Market has teamed up with school lunch activist Ann Cooper in a cross-promotion campaign between the supermarket chain and Cooper's The Lunch Box website. What makes this alliance interesting is that unlike Mackey, Cooper apparently does believe in universal access to food. Even Whole Foods Market's release announcing the alliance quoted Cooper as saying access to healthy food is "the social justice issue of our time."

Today the The Lunch Box's blog even posted a statement advocating universal feeding in public schools:

Hunger advocates love universal feeding because it opens access to nutrition programs. Programs like the one in Philadelphia allow every child to receive a free lunch, even those whose parents forget to fill out forms and applications. ... In districts with high numbers of low-income students, very few students pay for meals to begin with. Making all meals free increases participation substantially, and in many cases the accompanying increase in reimbursements more than offsets the revenue lost from eliminating paid meals. ...

... Universal feeding not only ensures that every child gets to eat lunch, it also ensures that cafeterias can really concentrate on preparing that lunch.

Like healthcare, healthy food needs to be universally accessible to everyone. Assuring universal access to free meals under the National School Lunch Program is an important step in the process of creating a food system that is equitable and just for everyone.