Posts Tagged ‘school lunch’

Fed Up with School Lunch: The Feds Join The Fray

February 9, 2010

Many kids in the U.S. eat half their daily calories at school.

And what a sad, super-size me state of affairs that is in most parts of the country.

Highly processed and packaged food laden with sugar, fat, and salt fill in for whole grains, fruit & veg, and protein — you know, the kind of nutrients that might actually help a child learn and stay lean.

Loads of folks have been working their buns off to try and make schools a healthier place for children to eat. Check out Ann Cooper, the self-styled Renegade Lunch Lady, who revamped school lunch programs in Harlem, NY, Berkeley, CA, and now Boulder, CO. Or visit Slow Food U.S.A.’s Time For Lunch Campaign, or Susan Rubin’s Better School Food.

And yes, for the record, we know we’re spoiled here in Berkeley with our made from scratch, fresh ingredients lunch menu. We also know what’s going on here is the exception, not the rule.

Maybe that can change. Today, as part of the federal government’s “Let’s Move” launch, the First Lady’s much buzzed about campaign against childhood obesity, Michelle Obama announced plans for a renewed effort to raise the quality of school food, feed more kids, and feed them better.

White House watchers know that the administration recently called for an additional $10 billion over 10 years to improve school food and increase participation in school nutrition programs. Congress must green-light this request, of course, before it’s a reality.

More money is needed, and lots of it, but new thinking about what nourishment looks like at lunch is necessary, too. Think less processed, packaged edible food-like substances and more fresh, real food.

These government efforts may seem like too little too late to critics. But they can’t come soon enough for people like Mrs. Q, the anonymous school teacher from an unnamed Illinois public school who has vowed to eat the same school lunch offered to her students throughout 2010.

Granted, Fed Up: The School Lunch Project sounds like another food blog gimmick. Not so. This teacher has hit on a simple but surefire way to draw attention to the deplorable state of school lunch in her workplace, one bad lunch at a time. And she’s perfectly positioned to serve up the inside scoop.

She believes a lousy school lunch has many downsides for kids who:

  • can’t learn as poor quality food doesn’t fuel their bodies and brains
  • feel bad in their bodies after eating this junk food
  • may surmise that no one cares enough to stop feeding them garbage

Mrs. Q wants to keep a low profile; she fears losing her job if she’s outed. But I’ll check in with her towards the end of the school year to find out what conclusions she draws from her school food experiment. For now, you can read her insightful interview with Robin Shreeves at Mother Nature News.

While it’s unlikely that this presumably underpaid teacher will make a small fortune on a book deal or movie rights for her efforts on behalf of school kids, she may get an invite to the White House.

So might Ed Bruske, who could likely walk over, since he hails from D.C. The Slow Cook blogger recently spent a week in an elementary-school kitchen in the nation’s capitol–and it’s not a pretty picture there either.

Bruske documents a daily menu of industrialized school food that’s cheap, fast, and easy to dole out to the masses. Tellingly, kitchen staff spend more time cleaning up and serving than they do prepping or cooking food, writes the former Washington Post reporter in the first of his six-part series.

He also recounts witnessing such edible atrocities as so-called scrambled eggs, “a manufactured product with 11 different ingredients cooked in a factory in Minnesota and delivered 1,100 miles frozen in plastic bags to the District of Columbia.”

Clearly, the Feds have their work cut out for them. Clearly, good folks are keeping tabs on them. Clearly, school lunch made in the U.S.A. needs a massive makeover.

In France, Italy, and Japan, and elsewhere around the globe, children do eat well at midday, notes Deborah Lehmann at School Lunch Talk. Even some students here do, as this child tucking into salad in a New York City school illustrates.

Here’s the big ask: Can Michelle Obama and crew address childhood obesity, school lunch, and food security in all of the communities across the U.S.?

Can she do it?

The survival, literally, of the next generation of American kids may well depend on it.

What say you?

Photo: Chicago school lunch: Corn chips with cheese sauce, French fries, ketchup, pears in syrup, & chocolate milk (Source: American Lunchroom: What Our Kids Are Eating at School: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly)

Bottom Photo: New York school lunch salad eater by Kate Adamick

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Food Stamped: A Film For Our Times

June 22, 2009

Who knew that a documentary on the food stamp program could be funny, infuriating, informative, and entertaining? Food Stamped sets out to answer a simple but important question: Is it possible to eat well for a week on the federal supplemental food aid program?

In this new film nutrition educator Shira Potash and her movie-maker husband Yoav take the food stamp challenge — with a healthy twist. At a screening last Saturday night we watch as the engaging twosome shop for inexpensive, wholesome food, plan menus for a week of eating on just a $1 a meal, and cook from scratch every night such nutritious recipes as Sweet Potato and Swiss Chard Frittata. The couple trade coffee for organic lettuce, stock up on free grocery store samples of outlawed items like cheese and chocolate (deemed too exxy on their tight budget), harvest herbs from their garden, and forage in the garbage bins of whole-grain bakers.  (What’s with all the dumpster diving in my neighborhood of late…an economic indicator, perhaps?)

As well as detailing their experiment, the film weaves in footage of Chef Shira serving up healthy greens in cooking class to eager elementary school children from mostly poor families; these same kids get hideously unhealthy and unappetizing options come time for school lunch.  And nutrition experts weigh in on how hard it is for low-income Americans to put three-square meals on the table. Let’s face it: Money and time is tight and fast food is cheap. Why not load up the shopping cart, as one food stamp recipient does, with pallets of Top Ramen noodle packets?

But as we learn, the price is right — for all the wrong reasons. Junk food cranked out by industrial food producers costs less because of government subsidies for big agriculture that small organic farmers simply don’t get.

The film is full of food stamp facts: One in eight families is eligible for such assistance, though only one out of 15 participate in the program. And 40 percent of those families are white, in case you’re wondering. By all accounts California does a bad job reaching folks who could really use food stamps and critically underserves the Latino community — the required fingerprinting is a huge deterrent to immigrants, according to a post-screening panel discussion, though food justice activists are all over that one.

But does it even matter if people who need food stamps aren’t getting them if it’s impossible to eat healthily on assistance? Or, put another way: How did the documentary duo do on a food-stamp diet of about 50 bucks a week? Spoiler alert: The Potashes were well fed  — but only because they live in bountiful Berkeley and poured their combined knowledge, skills, time, and energy into the exercise. Still, they came up short in calories and some nutrients despite their best efforts. And, truth be told, things got a little testy on the domestic scene as the week wore on and the rationing of staples like carrots and peanut butter proved necessary. As for meat, snacks, or desserts? They simply went without.

If you’ve worked up an appetite to check out this family-friendly film and you live in the Bay Area, take the kids (you may want to feed them first) to a screening next Sunday June 28 at 7 pm at the JCC East Bay Theater in North Berkeley. If you live elsewhere, then look for this excellent educational offering coming soon, I’m almost certain of it, to a PBS station near you.

Image: Shira Potash