Friday, October 22, 2010

Guest Post: School Food

I asked my good friend Emily Piper to write a post to share with you this weekend.  I always look to Emily for a fresh perspective on the world around us and I respect her opinion very much about all things related to food in our society.  A little background: Emily graduated with a degree in journalism form UNC Chapel Hill...yes she is a very beautiful, classy Southern girl at heart! After graduating, she has lived and worked all over the US including Norfolk, Boston, Tucson and now New York City where she is studying Food Systems at NYU (I'm so jealous!).  She is a wonderful author/journalist and I trust that she will bring us a fresh and educated look at school food.  Thank you Emily for working so diligently on this post (and with not very much forewarning!) 

After a year of working with kids to learn about gardening and community food security in Tucson, Ariz., I enrolled in New York University’s Food Systems master’s program to learn about the governmental policies, international relations issues and economic drivers behind why so many Americans do not have access to fresh, healthy food.

Last week I went to a few events about School Food and got really angry about how we are feeding kids in schools. I learned about a lot of resources for fighting against this dangerous problem and wanted to share the information with everyone.

Let me start off by borrowing from School Food expert Kate Adamick’s frightening description of added sugars from her review of Jamie Oliver’s television show Food Revolution:

“Generally speaking, there are 22 to 24 grams of sugar in a typical eight-ounce serving of flavored milk—10 to 12 more grams of added sugars than in a comparable serving of unflavored milk (of equal fat content). There are four grams of sugar per teaspoon, and approximately 115 teaspoons of sugar per pound. Thus, a child who drinks flavored milk every day for lunch consumes 1800 to 2160 more grams of sugar per 180-day school year than a child who drinks an equal amount of unflavored milk. That's 3.9 to 4.7 pounds of added sugars. And, of course, children who drink flavored milk for both breakfast and lunch consume twice that amount.”

Kids in schools are fed sugar, fat and salt by the pounds every year, and food companies that take free commodities like unflavored milk and raw chicken and process them into chocolate milk and chicken nuggets get rich off of this. We are teaching kids that it is ok for them to think of food this way—that it should be consumed as entertainment, that the only way food can taste good is if it is overly processed, colorful, advertised by a cartoon, and high in sugar.

This very blog, and my own experiences cooking and eating with my roommates in my little Brooklyn apartment, show us that there is a lot more to enjoy about food. We know chicken grilled with rosemary (I know we weren’t always vegans) is even better than a dinosaur-shaped nugget. None of us buy into the idea that adding sugar/salt/fat is the only way to make food tasty, and we need to show kids that this is true as well—or else there are going to be a lot of diet-related problems for our younger generations.

I was lucky enough to buy school lunch only a handful of times growing up. Mostly I packed my own lunch every day, or my mom packed it when I was young. I would still buy soda or french fries to supplement what I brought by the time I was in high school, but I had a bagel and some fruit to fill me up. For students on free or reduced lunch, or any other low-income students, there is no nutritional safety net. Cakes and donuts are served for breakfast, chicken nuggets and pizza for lunch, and if there is a salad bar it usually has iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. For one of the school food events I attended, we picked a number out of a hat that dictated what we could eat for breakfast. I got donuts and cocoa puffs. I ate donuts for the first time in years, and felt sick all day long because of that.

Two New York public school students made a film about their relationship to food, and the accessibility of fresh, healthy food in their neighborhood and at their school. You can see a trailer for the film here, and if you have resources to purchase and show the film I encourage you to do so—it’s inspiring and really fun. How wonderful that students want to advocate for their own bellies and learn about what it takes to grow healthful food!

Do you think it is necessary to revamp school food so that it can nourish young minds and bodies? I do not have kids, but I really like kids, and I like kids that are full of curiosity, joy and energy.  I think all kids should have a right to live life this way, and I think eating habits are the most basic improvements that can be made to promote quality of life. So that’s why I care. But what if your kids were like me, and had yummy food put in a lunch box every day? The accessibility of junk food undermines kids’ practices or preferences of eating nutritious food. Even if they do not eat the donuts for sale in the lunch line, they might still be influenced by the kids that eat them and talk about how sweet they are.  To me—and this is biased because it is currently my life’s work—the cafeteria is the most important educational facility in a school. How can we make it a healthy place to learn?

School gardens, farm-to-school programs and cooking programs are just a few options, and these are great ways to get involved in your local community (and get access to yummy food to sweeten the deal!). Most successful school gardens I’ve seen resulted from PTA funding or involvement, and farm-to-school programs are beneficial to everyone in the community. Here are some wonderful resources to learn more:

(I have endless resources about school gardening, e-mail me -Emily-if you want more help!)

Thank you for listening to my tirade on what kids eat, and please let me know what your comments and questions are! 

 Thank you Emily for sharing your thoughts on school food with me and my community of readers.  Like she mentioned...if you have any questions feel free to contact Emily or comment below.  We would both love to hear from you!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Doc,

    Thanks for letting my post! I'd like to do it more sometime if people would be interested... I'm learning so very much in school!