First off, if you're looking for more information on the Slow Food USA Time for Lunch campaign, you can find it here. Go online NOW and see how you can get involved in asking for our legislators to value our children and their health when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized.
Some basic information about the current situation:
- Currently Congress allots only $2.68 for each school lunch, $1 of which is for ingredients. Only 20¢ of that goes to fruits and vegetables.
- There are three purchase options for school lunch; fully paid, reduced price (130% - 180% above poverty line), or free (130% above poverty live & below).
- Many schools don't even have kitchens in which to prepare food. Of the 176 area schools, only 30 have full kitchens. The other 130 are considered 'satellites' and receive food from a company called Preferred Meals out of Pennsylvania.
- Kids have NO TIME for lunch; in Somerville, from the time they enter to the time they leave, they have approximately 12 minutes. How can they enjoy any food?
- Let's think of the cafeteria like a restaurant and the children as customers. Customers won't eat food that looks poorly or tastes bad, so there needs to be an effort to make it both aesthetically pleasing and palatable - to get their 'customers' to 'buy' the vegetables in particular. This raised the issue of the involvement of parents and the home eating environment; parents need to be doing work at home to instill good values and the necessity of good choices when it comes to food. The school alone can't do this.
- Additionally, Massachusetts is working to improve the morale of lunch service staff, since those working in the cafeteria can greatly affect the children's enjoyment. When wellness initiatives were implemented in Somerville, they saw great improvements in morale and staff's enjoyment of their job, which can easily be reflected out to the children.
- And that 20¢ for fruits & veggies? It is actually possible to purchase seasonal and local food with it; last year they were able to serve corn on the cob, collard greens, butternut squash and sweet potatoes!
Claire talked about the work she was involved in at the Somerville area schools. One major breakthrough that was made was reducing the size of the apples given to the kids. Before, they received large sized apples, yet not enough time to eat them - resulting in huge amounts of wasted food. Buying smaller apples turned out to help everyone; the orchard owner/farmer could sell apples to schools that previously would only go to cider making because they weren't large enough for wholesale accounts, the school receives more apples for less money, and the children can actually eat more of this nutritious food. It was, as someone said, an 'A HA' moment.
JJ raised some great issues from a parents perspective:
- Schools (& prisons) end up with lots of what are called 'commodity' goods given to them by the government - excess products made from excess ingredients available due to all the subsidies given to agri-businesses. (Think soy products, high-fructose corn syrup, etc) "Free" seems prefect from the food service admin side, since it leaves more money to spend on other items in the cafeterias.
- Massive amounts of canned tunafish is given to the schools, and we should really look into this, due in part to the health risks of the cans, but more importantly due to the mercury levels in tuna.
- There was congratulations lately due to the fact that Cambridge school began offering chocolate milk made from sugar, instead of high fructose corn syrup. Certainly a better alternative, yes, but the question is WHY do we have to offer chocolate milk in the first place? Generally schools offer milk, chocolate milk and apple juice. They legally cannot offer water since it is considered to have 'no nutritional value.'
- Many schools always offer peanut butter & jelly sandwiches as an alternative to the day's entree. Not necessarily the best choice (versus fruits & vegetables) but not bad, right? Think again - the bread doesn't have 'whole wheat' in it, but does have hydrogenated oil. So, too, does the peanut butter. The peanut butter also has high fructose corn syrup -- just the jelly!
It was brought up that as part of the Massachusetts School Nutrition bill that passed the House last year was an amendment specifying the sourcing of local food. I believe that it calls for a certain percentage of all food sourced to be purchased from local farms and food producers. This bill still needs to pass the Senate. More information can be found on the Massachusetts Public Health Association website. There's also good commentary on the Veritas Health blog.
There is some 'top down' hope, too; Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign and the USDA's 'Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer' initiative. (BTW, the new deputy secretary of the USDA is from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition and Policy)
This issue is a multi-headed beast; we need to attack it from all sides! People must work with the school administrators in their community to be sure they know that constituents are concerned, and we also must support legislation at the state & national levels that requires better food be served to our children. We also need to be instilling in our children the importance of good, healthy choices at home, and not just berating the lunch service for offering poor quality food. We need to NOT just get angry, instead use the anger to motivate us to do something. To speak up, to form partnerships and make our voices heard.