School Lunch Trade Wars

A teacher lines up the students for school-prepared lunches on Aug. 9 at Madison Crossing Elementary School in Canton, Mississippi. Scott Clements, director of child nutrition at the Mississippi education department, said they’ve ordered two truckloads of ‘trade mitigation’ pulled pork and four loads of kidney beans for use in their cafeterias.

NEW YORK — School lunch menus already have Meatless Mondays and Taco Tuesdays. Now some may get Trade Mitigation Thursdays.

This fall, some U.S. school cafeterias are expecting shipments of free food, one little known consequence of President Donald Trump’s trade disputes. The products are coming from the Department of Agriculture, which is giving away the $1.2 billion in foods it’s buying to help farmers hurt by trade negotiations.

A Maryland district is awaiting a truckload of canned kidney beans — one of several “trade mitigation” items schools were offered.

“We make our own chili soup, so we knew we had a use for that,” said Barbara Harral, a nutrition official for Montgomery County Public Schools.

All told, she said the district is getting $70,000 worth of free products for the fall, including apples and oranges. Harral, who has been with the district for 22 years, doesn’t recall the USDA offering trade mitigation foods before.

The USDA has long purchased and distributed agricultural products to help farmers, who can face swings in supply and demand in any given year. But the agency is buying even more as a result of the trade fight, which prompted other countries to take retaliatory actions that curb imports of American farm products.

That’s resulting in an unusual bounty for the groups that get government foods, showing one way federal policies influence what people eat.

According to the USDA, most food purchased as part of trade-relief efforts is going to programs that help the needy. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, for instance, said it’s getting roughly twice as much government food as normal, including rarely donated items like pistachios. Though they may struggle to handle the sudden deluge, food banks say they’re generally happy for the bounty.

The USDA says schools are only getting a tiny slice of trade mitigation foods, accounting for a majority of the $27 million of products ordered for child nutrition programs. But at a national convention for school cafeteria employees this summer, agency officials noted the program is expected to continue with additional items.