Brazilian school food policy: Social representations and marks from the past

Silvia Alicia Martínez, Francine Nogueira Lamy Garcia Pinho


The Programa Nacional de Alimentação Escolar (PNAE) is a Brazilian public policy initiative regulated by the Education Ministry and aimed, in a universal manner, at the scholastic environment, with supplementary nutrition and nutritional education in public academic institutions as its primary focus. However, student participation is low. Brazilian school food programs have traditionally been known as merenda escolar, a designation acquired within the context of its creation in 1955 that continues to be commonly used in schools today. The present text seeks to demonstrate that the strong welfare-oriented traditional context in which school food programs in Brazil appeared left lasting marks on the social representation of this school meal and consequently hindered its universal implantation. Based on this premise, two simultaneous methodological processes were developed. One was a qualitative study carried out among students, administrators, and food service workers designed to characterize the social representations of those involved. The other involved the use of historical policy documents in order to discern some of the roots of the social representations present today (Moscovici, 2011). The results indicate that despite improvements in nutritional quality and in the process through which school meals are provided, contradictions exist between regulatory theory and the daily practices carried out in schools, and that these inconsistencies are heightened by an inadequate implementation of the meal program. In addition, the study found that students from less privileged socio-economic classes take the most frequent advantage of the school food program, a fact which indicates that this program’s social representation has yet to overcome its past association with public welfare.



school food policy; participation; social representations; social vulnerability


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