When Orwell writes about food, he doesn't mess around. If you ever want to eat at a fancy French restaurant again, I suggest that you avoid Down and Out in Paris and London. But while the rest of us can give the steak frites a miss, schoolkids aren't so lucky.
In his brilliant and distressing essay on the cruelties of English boarding school life in the 1910s, “Such, Such Were the Joys,” George Orwell devoted a few lines to the prevailing attitudes toward feeding children. A boy’s appetite was seen as “a sort of morbid growth which should be kept in check as much as possible.” At Orwell’s school, St. Cyprian’s, the food was therefore not only unappetizing but calorically insufficient; students were often told “that it is healthy to get up from a meal feeling as hungry as when you sat down.” Only a generation earlier, school meals began with “a slab of unsweetened suet pudding, which, it was frankly said, broke the boys’ appetites.” Orwell described sneaking, terrified, down to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a slice or two of stale bread to dull the hunger pains. His contemporaries at public school had it better, and worse: so long as their parents gave them pocket money to buy eggs, sausages, and sardines from street vendors, they scrounged enough food to get through the day.
Orwell on school lunch is just as brutal, and while things have changed since his time school lunch is still one of the worst parts of a pretty terrible education system—meager, yet obesity inducing. From The Washington Monthly's review of Janet Poppendieck's Free for All: Fixing School Food in America:
Under the National School Food Lunch Program, there are three tiers of school meals: free ones for the poorest children, reduced-price ones for those with somewhat greater means, and full-price meals for everyone else. All of the meals, including the full-price ones, are subsidized and therefore artificially cheap. And it is hard to break even when your most expensive meal costs $1.50, so school districts have increasingly turned to unregulated (and pricier) a la carte lines, the income from which goes straight back into the cafeteria program, and vending machines, which help fill out the schools’ general discretionary budgets.
Via A&L Daily