When we remember the Eisenhower years, we might think of the frightening arms race with the Soviets and diplomatic efforts to prevent nuclear war. Those were years of stunning technological change in terms of armaments.
But this was also a time of positive change for many children in the country, in terms of a simple cup of milk. The Special School Milk Program of 1954 offered reduced price milk for school children, and nine million children were the beneficiaries.
Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson noted the feedback from teachers who saw such remarkable change in their students after the milk program started. One teacher from Minneapolis wrote, “I made a chart keeping a record of the children’s marks, and actually we found that they greatly improved after they had been drinking milk. We compared our attendance record, too, and found it much better than last year.” Benson also recalled how in New Mexico, “A serious skin infection among school children disappeared soon after the program started.”
It’s worth remembering how significant nutrition can be for children, the nation’s future. This is why current initiatives to expand school breakfast and lunch programs, coupled with after-school and summer feeding, are so vital.
Passage of H.R. 5504, including with it a restoration of recent food stamp cuts, is a vital component of building America’s future. This takes on even greater importance considering the need for safety nets during a harsh economic period. Of course, the costs are relatively small when compared to other government programs.
Also during the Eisenhower years, the Food for Peace initiative kicked off, helping fight hunger overseas. Part of this was massive school lunch programs for Italy and Japan.
School feeding is still very important today in countries high on the U.S. national security priority list including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen. U.S. leadership can go a long way toward ensuring that children in these countries do not suffer malnutrition and a poor education.
Instead of just simply accepting the current cuts in school feeding facing these countries, the U.S. should show leadership and work with international partners to get them restored.
Peace and development for these countries takes a sequence of positive events, dramatic or behind the scenes. One of these silent steps, simple school feeding, can tip the balance for a struggling country.
The message for Congress and the President: Be like Ike. Let’s make school feeding and nutrition a top priority at home and abroad, and make history.