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Indian schoolchildren eat their free midday meal. (AFP/Getty Images)

Lizards And Worms Should Not Be On The School Lunch Menu

by Rhitu Chatterjee
Aug 27, 2014

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Sweetened rice is a popular dessertand snack in India. This dish, traditionally made with a pinch of saffron and cardamom powder, was served at a school on the outskirts of Jammu in northern India.

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Rice and lentils was the free lunch on August 22 at the Government Model Senior Secondary school in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh.

Teachers took a look at the meal.

They found worms.

Lunch was not served. Seven hundred students reportedly went home hungry after their school day.

India's free school lunch program is the largest in the world. The program was started in the mid-1990s with two goals: to fight chronic hunger and child malnutrition and to increase school enrollment and attendance.

As many studies have shown, the program has reached these goals. The "Mid-Day Meal Program" currently feeds about 120 million of India's poorest children. "Food is cooked in 12 lakh (1.2 million) schools," says Dipa Sinha, an economist at the Center for Equity Studies in New Delhi.

It is also a program that has made headlines for its missteps, one of which was tragic.

In 2013, 23 students at a school in the Chapra district of Bihar died after eating food contaminated with pesticides. Many more fell ill. A government investigation later found that, like most schools in the state, this school had no separate kitchen or storage place for the food items. As a result, ingredients were stored in the principal's house, right next to pesticides stored for her farm.

Since then, there's been no tragedy of similar scope. But there are worms. And lizards.

Earlier this summer, a child found a dead lizard in the lunch served at his primary school in the city of Bhagalpur, on the Ganges River in the state of Bihar. Later that day, 16 students complained they were feeling dizzy and had to be admitted to the local primary health care center. A government investigation later found that the animal had fallen into the meal while it was being cooked."

As the Times of India and other Indian papers reported, this was the fourth case of students being sick after eating their school lunch in the state of Bihar.

In these cases — and other instances where students became sick after eating a contaminated school lunch — the cause is often a lack of proper storage facilities.

The rice and wheat supplied to schools come from government warehouses, says Sinha, who was a member of a team appointed by the Indian government to track the school lunch program in different states. This past year, the government bought more grains from farmers than it had room to store them, she says. "A lot has been stored in the open."

Schools are also short on storage space. The government sends grains to schools every two or three months. And many schools around the country don't have a separate kitchen or larder to store the grains.

This is monsoon season, says Sinha. Insects thrive in the damp weather. "So if there's no storage in the schools, then it's a problem."

Back in Bihar, where most of these recent incidents have occurred, local activists agree. "You have to improve the facilities [in schools]," says Rupesh Kumar, a longtime food rights activist.

Since the 2013 poisoning in Bihar, the government has been building separate kitchens in schools. "As of March of this year, 2000 schools had kitchen sheds," says Kumar. But thousands more are yet to be built.

There's also a need to better train cooks about best practices in the kitchen, says Kumar. Cooks at schools are often illiterate or poorly educated and aren't aware about health standards. He says the government has already given schools in Bihar a set of "standard operating procedures," or guidelines to maintain health and sanitation standards. But there's no way to ensure that the cooks follow those guidelines.

Ultimately, he says all of this reflects a lack of monitoring and accountability.

Currently, a teacher is assigned to monitor the program and make sure everything runs smoothly, says Kumar. Teachers do this on top of regular duties and are not paid extra. "One person is overseeing everything," he says. "This is the main problem."

The problems can be fixed, says Sinha. For example, the states of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have created a separate position for a "noon meal organizer." As a result, she says, their school lunch programs have fewer problems than in other areas.

The Indian government has appointed a handful of independent committees to periodically monitor programs in randomly selected schools. But such efforts need to be more comprehensive, says Sinha.

Meanwhile, despite all these cases of contaminated food, kids haven't stopped eating the free lunches — a sign of how much they depend on the Mid-Day Meal Program.

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Mauritanian singer and instrumentalist Noura Mint Seymali. (Ebru Yidiz for NPR)

Latitudes: The International Music You Must Hear In August

Aug 27, 2014

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Sweetened rice is a popular dessertand snack in India. This dish, traditionally made with a pinch of saffron and cardamom powder, was served at a school on the outskirts of Jammu in northern India.

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This month's offerings for what you have to hear from Asia, Africa and Europe are a mixed plate. There are some new summer songs to catch up on, including a fabulous party tune, a very pretty number used in one of this summer's most talked about films and a video I just can't stop watching from an emerging duo. I'm also playing a quick round of "Where Are They Now?" with two acts I've been following for a while; both use fantastical, psychedelic sounds, but to very different ends.

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In this October 2011 file photo, Sam Mullet stands in the front yard of his home in Bergholz, Ohio. Mullet's conviction for hate crimes for cutting the hair and beards of fellow members of his faith was overturned Wednesday. (AP)

Hate-Crime Convictions In Amish Beard-Cutting Case Thrown Out

by Krishnadev Calamur
Aug 27, 2014

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Sweetened rice is a popular dessertand snack in India. This dish, traditionally made with a pinch of saffron and cardamom powder, was served at a school on the outskirts of Jammu in northern India.

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An appeals court in Cincinnati has overturned the hate-crime convictions of 16 Amish who cut the beards and hair of their fellow Amish.

"When all is said and done, considerable evidence supported the defendants' theory that interpersonal and intra-family disagreements, not the victims' religious beliefs, sparked the attacks," the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

The Associated Press adds that three defendants who were convicted of non-hate crime-related charges did not challenge those convictions.

The Amish beard-cutters, headed by a man named Sam Mullet who ran a community of about 120 people near Bergholz, Ohio, were convicted in September 2012 for five attacks in Amish communities in Ohio in 2011. As Barbara Bradley Hagerty reported for NPR's All Things Considered at the time: "The victims have all been Amish leaders who have spoken out against Mullet, or those who have fled Mullet's group."

Mullet, as we reported last year, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He is now 69 years old. Members of his family received sentences ranging from one to seven years.

As part of our reporting on the story, sociologist Charles Hurst spoke about the significance of facial hair among the Amish, and why the beard-cutting resonated so deeply among the community.

"Having a beard is a sign of adulthood, it's a sign of maturity and it's a sign of marital status. So it's a sign of a man being a man. So, to cut the beard is a kind of humiliation," he told reporter David Barnett.

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Thom Green, Joe Newman and Gus Unger-Hamilton of alt-J (Courtesy of the artist)

Alt-J Will Debut New Album Live In New York

Aug 27, 2014

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Sweetened rice is a popular dessertand snack in India. This dish, traditionally made with a pinch of saffron and cardamom powder, was served at a school on the outskirts of Jammu in northern India.

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They're simply my favorite band of the decade, so I'm thrilled that alt-J will be premiering a good chunk of its new album live for you to see and hear on September 2. That album, This Is All Yours, is another eclectic mix of English folk and art rock, with disturbing and intoxicating lyrics, rhythms and melodies that shift, fall apart and explode. It's been looping endlessly in my head since I first heard it.

This second set of songs from the Leeds, England group (now a trio) is every bit as quirky and mysterious the one we heard on its 2012 debut, An Awesome Wave, which was my favorite album of 2012. This Is All Yours will be out Sept. 22, but three weeks before the release the band will play these songs at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York City. I'll be co-hosting the event along with WFUV's Russ Borris. Audio and video of the entire show will be broadcast live on at NPR Music, beginning at 9 p.m. ET on Sept. 2 (and on WFUV as well).

For those who will be in New York on Sept. 2, there are a limited number of free tickets to the show. If you'd like to attend, make sure to follow @nprmusic on Twitter and keep your eyes peeled for updates.

Please note that the event is 18+ with ID. RSVP does not guarantee admission. And of course, if you can't make it to LPR in person or watch the live webcast, the show will be archived in our Live In Concert series.

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Nansemond. ( )

Viking's Choice: Nathan Bowles, 'Chuckatuck'

by Lars Gotrich
Aug 27, 2014

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Nathan Bowles.

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Music is about connection. Sometimes that connection is a feeling, a theory or a technique, but mostly music connects time and provides a record of how we choose to interact with it.

There's a deep distillation of Nathan Bowles' musical past and present on his second solo album, Nansemond: from the old-time Black Twig Pickers to the abstract drone of Spiral Joy Band to the band that sort of splits the difference, Pelt. But Bowles also carves out his own corner of this clawhammer-banjo-based music and takes a portal through time while keeping one foot in the ether. Take a listen to "Chuckatuck," named for the Virginia creek he grew up on, and featuring Charalambides' Tom Carter on guitar.

Built on a hypnotic banjo melody that drones more like a sitar than something out of Appalachia, "Chuckatuck" sounds like something recorded in a bunker and long since forgotten. There are muffled shuffles throughout, as if a woodland creature overhead had become irresistibly drawn to the percussive plucks and Carter's acoustic arpeggios. For the coda, Carter switches to the electric guitar for a regal solo that belongs more to the wandering English countryside (think Richard Thompson, then put some burn on it) than to the tidewater.

Nansemond comes out Nov. 18 on Paradise of Bachelors.

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