School’s out for the summer, but there’s a food fight going on in the cafeteria. In Washington, Congress is turning up the heat on the policies that determine what 30 million children will eat once the lunch bell rings.
Want hormones out of kid’s milk? Pesticides off the tomatoes? Local lettuce in the salad bar? Candy bars and snack cakes to be considered junk food? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then I urge you to step into the lunch room and learn what this food fight is all about.
What our kids see on their lunch trays is a snapshot of our national food system: fresh, baked, breaded, or fried. What we feed them affects how they learn, how they grow, and what kind of future citizens we’re nurturing. A formidable new combatant has just joined the kid-food fray: our country’s Mom-in-Chief. Last Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama stepped up her support of local, fresh foods, invoking community gardens and the Child Nutrition Act, while enjoying a harvest picnic with the Bancroft fifth-graders. (Read or watch (VIDEO) Michelle Obama’s speech.)
The current Child Nutrition Act expires September 30, 2009, meaning it’s up for reauthorization, and in that process we have a chance to really improve on how food for our smallest citizens is funded, sourced, defined, and prioritized. Remember in 1981, how under Reaganomics ketchup was classified as a vegetable and 2 million children were dropped from the National School Lunch Program? The Act has far-reaching impact, beyond school lunch, to the WIC, Child and Adult Care Food, and Summer Food Service programs, and others.
During the last reauthorization cycle five years ago, there was a scarcity of grassroots pressure and media around this policy. Thankfully, times have changed. There is a bountiful buffet of campaigns you can participate in: you can take five seconds and sign your name to a petition to demonstrate support, or you can dedicate your life to the cause like the indefatigable Ann Cooper (aka the Renegade Lunch Lady). Or you can grab a tray and get in line on one of the following efforts.
Today, the Healthy School Food Brigade, comprised mostly of moms, marched the halls of Congress to, you guessed it, voice their support of healthy food choices in schools, from hot lunches to less junk-filled vending machines. Basically they want to get junk food out of schools. Sounds simple, but au contraire. Think water is better than high-fructose-corn-syrup-laced fruit juice? Take this quiz to see what the standards for “healthy” currently are.
This group is specifically advocating for HR 1324 and S.934: “Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009,” which amends the Child Nutrition Act to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish science-based nutrition standards for foods served in schools other than foods served under the school lunch or breakfast programs. Today’s day of lobbying is the culmination of the new film Food Inc.’s social-action campaign, organized by Participant Media for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. They joined forces with the Center for Science in the Public Interest in advocating for the proposed bill.
Food, Inc.’s campaign doesn’t stop at the end of the brigade today. Turn on your computer’s sound and take a noisy wander through the Hungry for Change cafeteria, which links to various organizations’ child-nutrition-focused campaigns. Among them:
Food & Water Watch is working to get rBGH out of school milk and stopping the practice of irradiation to kill bacteria
I just published a pseudo-response to this post on my food blog. The post can be found at http://www.goodhoot.com/2009/06/why-not-schools-to-farm/ . Perhaps the post is really a response. It is more like an extension of this post... "great idea but we could do more"
Schools are underfunded and meals are taking a major hit because of that. With so many schools in the red, they are requiring their food programs to be – at minimum – revenue neutral. This is a huge obstacle. We should be funding school food as if it's a priority, not as if it need to be in competition with education dollars. As long as we see food vs. education as a zero sum game, we're going to all loose.
Remember, schools get reimbursed only $2.57 per school lunch and on average they loose $0.35 each meal served. And in large urban districts, they may loose double that amount. Without the funding to bridge and exceed this gap, schools will still be struggling to consistently provide healthful meals.
With the reauthorization coming up, there is a real opportunity for change. And the priority needs to be more money for better food. Because then schools can then make many of the changes that advocates are calling for above.