Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
News & Events

New book co-edited by Jennifer Gaddis explores the politics of school meals

A solid, peach-colored background behind an illustration of a beige-colored book decorated with colorful illustrations of hands holding lunch trays and plates containing food. On the book are the words "Transforming School Food Politics around the World, edited by Jennifer E. Gaddis and Sarah A. Robert, forward by Silvia Federici."

What are the ripple effects of changing how we value school food programs around the world? A new book co-edited by Civil Society & Community Studies Associate Professor Jennifer Gaddis demonstrates, through a series of essays, how to successfully challenge and transform public school food programs to emphasize care, justice and sustainability, with insights from eight countries.

Transforming School Food Politics around the World, out May 28 and published direct to open access by MIT Press, is co-edited by Sarah A. Robert, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo’s Graduate School of Education. Robert earned her PhD in education policy studies at UW–Madison and is an expert on gender, education and school food politics.

A white woman smiling, with brown, straight hair, wearing a white shirt and gold necklace.
Jennifer Gaddis, associate professor of Civil Society & Community Studies and Jane Rafferty Thiele Faculty Fellow of Graduate Teaching

“I read Sarah’s 2011 edited volume, School Food Politics Around the World, in graduate school and was so inspired by the diverse case studies and global comparative approach,” says Gaddis, who is also the Jane Rafferty Thiele Faculty Fellow (Graduate Teaching). “I was thrilled when she emailed me in spring 2020 to ask me if I would be interested in co-editing a new volume with her. Our subsequent collaboration has been a highlight of my career and has already given me new opportunities to participate in international policy work and public scholarship.”

In the book, Gaddis and Robert highlight the importance of global and local struggles to argue that the transformative potential of school food hinges on valuing the gendered labor that goes into caring for, feeding and educating children. The book shows politics in action, with chapter contributions by young people, mothers, teachers, farmers, school nutrition workers, academics, lobbyists, policymakers, state employees, nonprofit staff and social movement activists.

Drawing from historical and contemporary research, personal experiences and collaborations with community partners, the chapters provide readers with innovative strategies that can be used in their own efforts to change school food policy and systems. Ultimately, Gaddis and Robert reimagine school food as part of the infrastructure of daily life, arguing that it can and should be at the forefront of building a new economy rooted in care for people and the environment.

Civil Society & Community Research PhD student Prerna Rana authored a chapter in the book, titled “Civil Society Activism and Government Partnerships in India.” The chapter, Rana says, “highlights the pivotal role played by civil society actors in operationalizing India’s school lunch program, the largest free government-supported school lunch program in the world.”

Professional photo of Prerna Rana in front of 100 Women Wall.
Prerna Rana, PhD student in Civil Society & Community Research

“I dive into the history of the program, emphasizing how community action and judicial intervention were key in ensuring that government policies on social welfare are actually enacted on the ground,” Rana explains. “The chapter also unpacks the politics of implementing the school lunch program in the present as civil society actors continue to work, sometimes together and sometimes in opposition, to realize the dream of a free and accessible school lunch program in the country.”

Rana says authoring the chapter was a “huge learning experience” for her.

“Unlike several chapters in the book, which relate to the authors’ primary research on school food politics, I relied on secondary sources of data to write this story of India’s school lunch program. Hence, it was a very interesting journey of weaving together various threads and making connections to narrate this overarching account,” Rana says. “I am immensely grateful to Jen, who presented me with an opportunity to contribute to this volume.”

Gaddis is an internationally recognized expert on the U.S. child nutrition workforce with more than 15 years of experience in school food research. She recently received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the study of the K-12 school food service workforce. Gaddis also wrote 2019’s The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools, which won awards from the National Women’s Studies Association and the International Association of Culinary Professionals.