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One of the tenents of traditional foods is to eat local as much as possible so you can know your farmer and know the quality of the food you are consuming. Here in Asheville there’s a bumper sticker we see on many cars that says “Eat Local: Thousands of Miles Fresher” and that is so true. My produce hasn’t been picked unripe, held in storage then gassed to induce ripening while it is trucked half-way across the US, or even half-way across the world. WHY do the supermarkets sell apples from China in the Fall when we’re eyeball deep in the rich, apple producing Appalachians?
Children’s Health and School Lunches
Growing up, we had a garden at our elementary school- one of my youngest memories is feeding the school’s chickens. I can’t recall knowing any children who had Type II diabeties as a child, and I can’t recall many overweight or obese children. Our cafeteria was an actual kitchen where they cooked meals. I have a memory of being shocked at how BIG the mixers seemed when I went into the cafeteria one day to see my grandmother who worked there- in my memory, the mixer was as tall as I was. They were mixing the dough for the rolls that would be served at lunch.
Twenty-eight million children eat at least one meal at school each day. Today, 30% of children are overweight or obese and children born today have a lower life expectancy than their parents. We are seeing historic highs of children with diet-induced health problems that are expensive to treat or control. Most people understand that nutrition is important for adults in disease prevention. Why doesn’t common sense cause this to extend to our children, whose habits are being formed? Why does up to two-thirds of the food our children eat resemble fast food?
Lunch: What are Kids Munching On? by Avis Richards addresses this issue. According to the movie, the Department of Defense provides every public school in the nation with a budget for fresh fruits and vegetables, but their contract distributors want $56 a case for fresh apples from who knows where. However, the local school district could get a case of apples from within their own state for $6. The difference? 50,000 more apples for hungry kids who need good nutrition, less waste from transportation and a higher chance that the food will be more nutritious since it is fresher.
Most schools only have $2 per child per meal, and the program isn’t serving children well because the focus is on cheap instead of healthy. In addition, school officials are afraid to attempt healthy food for fear the children reject it and go hungry. EVERY child deserves solid nutrition and a healthy attitude about food. However, because the school lunch programs are linked with the USDA commodity programs and most schools have eliminated their kitchens, our children are being done a disservice by being fed corn and soy-based, processed commodity foods chosen based on who offers the lowest price- the nutrition is largely regarded as irrelevant.
In Baltimore, they are trying to combat the problem through education. Baltimore City Schools has its own farm where they interplant and practice good stewardship to grow food for their school kitchens. The children get to visit and learn about farming, crops and animals on their field trips and have classroom lessons that reinforce and expand the information. The excess produce is sold to help fund the needs of the farm. While it doesn’t cover all of the food used at the school, it teaches the children health and nutrition and encourages the children to try foods they might have never been exposed to before. The kids get to learn where their food comes from and how the food web is inter-connected. The sad fact is that most children think food comes from a grocery store, not a farm.
Until our nation gets behind local, sustainable, quality food for our children’s lunches, obesity, diabeties, cancer and a whole host of other ills will continue. The time to reach people about their eating habits is while they’re young. Once they are into their teens, it is so hard to get them to change their eating habits. Most people who change as adults do so because they have to, not because they’re self-motivated to improve themselves.
Now inner-city schools are putting gardens on their rooftops and purchasing plots of land in order to be able to have gardens for their children. All children deserve quality food and a quality education about where their food comes from.
How To Get There
Nothing about how children are fed will change without parental involvement. Demanding school gardens coupled with local, quality, fresh produce starts with the parents. School officials aren’t going to change without an army of parents insisting that ALL children deserve better.
I fully realize that schools are unlikely to adopt a Weston A Price-style diet. However, ANY steps away from nasty pizza and processed nuggets and towards fruits and vegetables should be applauded and strongly encouraged. Weston Price changed children’s dental health with just one high quality meal per day. Moving towards quality and nutrition over price as the leading decision-maker would do our children a world of good in their health and in setting up life-long habits so nutrient-dense foods will be an interest before a health crisis arises. Recruiting children into the eat local movement will reap benefits far beyond their school years for both their own health and the life of the community. The more local businesses and farms people support, the better the economy for the area.
You can order the movie at this link. If you are struggling to explain your views about school food to others, this short film is excellent. It’s only about thirty minutes long and it’s a nominal cost to help support a group working to change our children’s diets.