Chapter 20. The Melting Pot, The School Lunch Program, And Me

I did not participate in the school hot lunch program and did not find out why until many years later. Allow me to give you a short lesson in American history so that you, too, will know why my parents and grandparents would not let me participate.

In the United States everyone except the Indians were immigrants or a descendent of one. In the 18th century at first there were settlements for the first wave of migration from Europe. Each settlement had people from only one country and one religion. For example there was Jamestown, which had only Englishmen and the Anglican Church, Salem with only English Puritans, New Netherland with only Dutch Calvinists, and the Amish, who were all German Protestants.

The second wave of immigrants went to settlements which had people from their old country, but churches from their own religion. They were met by people with the same background. In the 19th century many Irish came because of the famine in 1845. The Irish moved into the city because they spoke English and therefore could fit into society easily there. The last part of the 19th century saw a huge number of Italian and Jewish immigrants. These groups were helped by the settlement houses, which taught them how to become American citizens. With the coming of universal education laws, school teachers taught immigrant children English, manners and how to dress, as well as instilling within them a sense of patriotism. The goal was to homogenize these kids, to create a generation of Americans.

In the 1930s depression nobody had money to buy food and farmers were letting their crops rot in the field. There was poverty and hunger in the city and rural areas. The federal government passed laws to create funding for a hot lunch program in the schools. Children would have five nutritious lunches a week, provided by the school. The program took into account the large number of Irish and Italian school children who were Catholic, by not serving meat on Fridays.

Orthodox Jewish families sent their children to Yashivas, but the reform and the conservative Jews were very interested in what their children ate at school. There were too few Jews sending their children to public school to have an influence on federal policy. So I could not participate in the hot lunch program because it was not kosher enough for my family.