- At its inception in 1946, the United States’ National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was promoted as a success story; a boon for families navigating poverty, a means of buoying food prices by absorbing farm surplus, and a treatment for hunger in some of our country’s most vulnerable populations. Government subsidies were presented as a useful policy prescription, and commodities such as corn, soy, and canned foods were deemed acceptable nutrition for growing bodies.
Sixty years later school food policy narratives have changed. U.S. communities advocate for fresher ingredients and fewer preservatives, along with culturally relevant options, and food education that fits into a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. In the Corvallis, Oregon school district, conversation about school lunch has become contentious leading to lagging participation rates and a budget shortage. In the face of conflicting narratives, local stakeholders have engaged in activism and district administrators have sought community consensus.
Methodologically this paper employs qualitative methods. Leveraging a series of qualitative interviews and a brief survey with elite decision makers and district families, this research evaluates narrative variation among stakeholders and across cultural groups to determine what variation manifests in school lunch policies and what policy implications that variation has. Theoretically this research draws on the Narrative Policy Framework (NPF) and Cultural Theory (CT) to identify the distinct perspectives shaping competing narratives in the district’s school lunch environment. Research findings are explored within the context of local school lunch advocacy efforts and in light of extant NPF literature.
Keywords: School Lunch Programs, Food Policy, Narratives, Corvallis, Oregon, Narrative Policy Framework, Cultural Theory, Qualitative Methods.