As the locavore food movement and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver’s food revolution campaign continue to take hold we are seeing a continual increase in schools who are serving more fresh fruits and vegetables, more local produce and less processed foods. Call it a backlash against the pink slime burger or common sense finally prevailing as more American’s and their children are becoming obese. For what ever reason, more and more parents are finally calling on their schools to serve better food that is preferably local based or even produced from a school garden.
Personally I asked myself, when did it become tolerable to substitute real food with canned, processed peaches and precooked, just heat chicken? I am not entirely sure but I know it was there when I was in school a few moons ago. I do know that the sad reality is that just like for us parents, it is cheaper and time efficient for schools to pick less healthy foods to buy and serve, than healthier ones. A recent piece on school lunches at the National Public Radio website discussed why schools opt for processed foods over fresh and it often comes down to time and money. Gone are the days of hand pressing hamburgers or peeling potatoes. It requires less staff and skill to take something out of the box and reheat it than make it from scratch…or does it really if you factor in the health consequences?
Schools who participate in the Federal School Lunch Program get federal subsidies to provide their programs and to provide free and reduced lunches to individuals in need. They must meet certain nutritional requirements that often are at the local district’s discretion (and often ignored, perhaps for the better?). I am hopeful most districts meet or exceed the federal guidelines for nutrition, especially the newest FDA proposals. But, it’s the selection that is troubling to me. Canned peaches or fresh peaches, which sounds more appealing to you? Yet the reality of a school cafeteria is that they need to provide choices that their pickiest eaters will like. There is a reason why schools stand by the tried and true grilled cheese, chicken nuggets, and pizza choices that they provide. Perhaps some of this is more of a reflection of parenting and our nutrition choices within our home?
For sure, more and more school are bucking the trend and providing other, fresher options. Locally, the Attica Central School District is one example of a school who is utilizing local farm produce for their school lunch program. As part of a Wyoming County pilot program called ‘Farm-to-School‘, they provide students fresh, local potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and corn. In their program they also feature homemade soups on their menu.
Within the Hamburg Central School District, the “Giving Garden” has been highly successful. Here, two incredible mothers won a grant to establish a school garden at the Union Pleasant Elementary School. They strive to use organic and sustainable methods, as well as heirloom seeds. Their mission statement, put forward on their web site, is quite impressive, as it connects the garden to not only healthier school meals, but health and learning in general. It is downright inspiring and something for this mother to chew on for her girls (and little boy in not too many years)….
(Editors WOW Note: Hunting a bit more on this pink slime stuff and it is amazing that our health officers and food safety officials in the US allowed this to go on. Recent reports show that 70% of the beef in the USA had this stuff in it and that as Natural News reports the “USDA is purchasing 7 million pounds of the product for school lunches in public schools“. One of the major producers of this junk recently filed for bankruptcy as reported by ABC Newson April 2nd because of ‘changes in the market’. Glad that ‘whistle blower’ came forward, media took notice and individuals made their displeasure heard. And just when you thought Chicken Nuggets were safe you might be surprised at what is in them as reported back in 2002 by The Guardian.
(Closing Note: Students, Teachers and Parents interested in starting local initiatives and obtaining funding should look into opportunities at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/f2s/f2s-grants.htm or at http://www.farmtoschool.org/fundingopps.php. The only way to fix this issue is if each of us does a little)