New York City has the biggest school system in the country. It just made lunch free.

Thousands of New York City public school students are about to find out that there is such a thing as a free lunch.

Carmen Fariña (left) with city first lady Chirlane McCray and New York City public school students. Photo by Susan Watts-Pool/Getty Images.

At a Sept. 6 press conference, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the city's "Free School Lunch for All" program, currently available to 75% of New York City public school students, will be made available to every student in the system beginning this academic year.


"Free School Lunch for All will provide financial relief to families and ensure all students are receiving nutritious meals so that they can succeed in the classroom and beyond," Fariña said.

The expansion in the country's largest public school system means an additional 200,000 students will be able to eat for free.

New York City joins Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and other major municipal school districts that have begun offering universal free lunch in the last five years, thanks to the Department of Agriculture's Community Eligibility Provision, which collects system-wide data to determine need for subsidized meal options, preventing individual families from having to apply.

Food insecurity is often hidden in plain sight in wealthy New York City, affecting up to 37% of residents in some neighborhoods.

A 2014 report found the average South Bronx resident involuntarily missed more than 35 meals per year.

"For so many students, school is the only place where they have access to a nutritious meal," New York Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal said in a press release. "Providing free lunch to the City’s 1.1 million public school students will ensure that their bodies are fed so that their brains can be nourished."

Better access to nutritious food has been found to increase school performance.

Studies of subsidized school breakfast programs, which have been around in various forms since the 1960s, have found that participating students demonstrate improved behavior and concentration and are less likely to repeat a grade. An August 2017 study found that improving the nutritional content of school lunches led to a small increase in test scores.

"While adults may be able to focus and concentrate better with poorer nutrition, with kids, they cannot necessarily control that, and they might be more distracted and less able to sit and learn if their basic needs such as sleep and nutrition aren't getting met," Tanya Altmann, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN in a March interview.

The city is inviting those kids to chow down — without having to ask.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. Photo by Susan Watts-Pool/Getty Images.

"This helps New York City’s working families who struggled to pay $300 a year for school lunch, and it eliminates the stigma that we know kept some children from eating," said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.

Even on Taco Tuesday.

(Especially on Taco Tuesday.)

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Culture

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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