- 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
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.