How did it get so hard to feed kids healthy food?
This inquiry undergirds most recent efforts to examine what we feed our kids in school, yet from Two Angry Moms to Jamie Oliver's School Food Revolution, the focus has tended to be on documenting what is wrong with school lunch: the chicken nuggets, the greasy crackerbread pizza, the nacho cheeze products, and the mozzarella sticks. But it's the former question that matters most if school lunch is going to change—and that is precisely where Lunch Line, Uji Films's ambitious new documentary that premiered in mid-May, makes its mark.
The film begins by introducing us, via a montage with quietly hip background music (indie rockers Mates of State just agreed to provide additional scoring for the film), to a chefs-in-training team of teenagers in the Cooking Up Change program at Chicago's Tilden Career Academy. The group has just won a school meal contest—fitting, since just under 99 percent of Tilden students qualify for free or reduced lunch—along with a trip to Washington, D.C., where they'll make their winning menu of chicken jambalaya, cornbread, and cucumber salad at a school food briefing.
Mixing footage of the elated students with archival footage of school cafeterias, the sequence (somewhat misleadingly) suggests that we're going to meet and follow the students. We do meet and get charmed by them, and they make a compelling case for the benefits of teaching our youths to cook; the film also profiles efforts in one Chicago school to serve better food through the Organic School Project. But the film's core lies in what comes next: the political and social history that has made the 64-year-old school lunch program into what it is today.