USDA, Jewish Groups Keep School Lunches Kosher

WASHINGTON - Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released new guidelines that will allow Jewish schools to continue to take part in the federal school lunch program while remaining within the requirements of kashrus.

That participation had been in jeopardy. Provisions of the “Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010” require that all schools serve several different subgroups of vegetables weekly, including dark-green leafy vegetables. These vegetables, as every kosher cook knows, can be problematic, as they are known to be infested with insects and must be carefully checked or not used at all.

It seemed at first that there were only two options available — either to buy pre-checked vegetables or to hire extra personnel who would painstakingly check each leaf, both prohibitively expensive, and not necessarily acceptable to all parents.

Enter Agudath Israel of America and the Jewish Education Project, two prominent Jewish school advocacy organizations, who alerted the USDA to this problem several months ago after concerns were expressed by numerous school administrators and parents. In a series of meetings and other communications with federal officials, the organizations made it clear that accommodating the religious dietary practices of Jewish schools was appropriate and allowable under the law.

With the guidance of nutrition experts, the groups assisted the USDA to formulate accepted substitutions for the dark green vegetables, enabling Jewish schools to remain within the school lunch program.

“This is a significant achievement that will make it possible for our schools and children to continue participating in this important child nutrition program,” said Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Federal Government Affairs and Washington Director. “Together with our friends at the Jewish Education Project, and with cooperation from the USDA, who were sensitive to the problem and fully committed to seeking its resolution, thousands of Jewish students, who would have lost the benefits of the federal school lunch program, have been helped.”