Groups Work to Keep School Lunch Law Kosher


vegetablesTwo prominent Jewish school advocacy organizations have been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in search of an accommodation that will allow Jewish schools to continue to participate in the federal school lunch program while observing kashrus.

At a meeting with USDA officials in Washington and in subsequent communications, representatives of Agudas Yisroel of America and the Jewish Education Project (formerly the Board of Jewish Education of Greater NY) have pointed out that The Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010, which is intended to ensure that American students have healthy food choices in child nutrition programs, poses religious challenges to Jewish schools.

The law requires that schools serve several different subgroups of vegetables weekly, including dark green vegetables. This type of vegetable, which includes broccoli, collard greens, dark leafy lettuce, kale, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens and watercress, is infested with insects, which are prohibited in a kosher diet.

“The problem of insect infestation has been confirmed by numerous rabbinical authorities and kosher certification agencies, and many schools have raised this problem,” notes Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudas Yisroel’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director.

There are two options that might enable schools to address this issue in the kosher school lunch context. The first, buying pre-checked packages, is prohibitively expensive. The second, hiring extra personnel to painstakingly check each leaf for tiny insects, is expensive as well, but also logistically untenable, as it requires an extraordinary number of man-hours. It is not clear, however, that even these options would necessarily provide a solution.

“We have been informed by numerous Jewish schools that the kosher standards of many parents are not satisfied by these approaches,” Rabbi Dr. Martin Schloss, Director of Day Schools and Yeshivos at the Jewish Education Project, points out. “They will tell their children to simply not eat the vegetables.”

Agudas Yisroel and Jewish Education Project have endeavored to find solutions that would allow Jewish schools to satisfy federal law within kosher requirements. They have pointed to a provision in the regulations that allows schools to introduce variations or substitutions in the meal pattern to address ethnic and religious requirements provided they are “consistent with the food and nutrition requirements specified under this section.” Accordingly, the groups have consulted with nutritionists and presented an alternative vegetable menu to the USDA that they say would meet the objectives of all parties.

The Jewish groups are encouraged by their negotiations with the USDA, which they say has been understanding of the religious issues and cooperative in seeking a solution.

{Andy Newscenter}