2012-07-18 17:00:20

Better school lunches, please.

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While some have praised New York Mayor Bloomberg’s citywide ban on the sale oversized soda and sugary drinks in bodegas and movie theaters, my friend who teaches high school has eyed it with marked skepticism. He notes, ‘I see what they eat. It’s more than just a ban on drink. Sometimes lunch is during 6th period and it’s a bag of chips and soda, or happy meal.’ He continued to list a host of dining options, saying that they buy it because it’s cheap. His observation is that it was less to do with access to sugary drinks and soda, it’s about knowing that some healthy choices for food that tastes good and is filling is affordable. Public Schools as many of us know are often the victim of serious budget cuts, arts and music programs have all but disappeared in some districts, but he flags something I hadn’t considered missing from the curriculum: Health. He posits why would we ban soda and still expect students to make better choices regarding what they eat? He echoed my concern in the ban, how are we encouraging families to make healthier choices in the supermarket? We know that obesity and diabetes rates have mushroomed in recent years, and we also know that it disapportiately affects communities of color in urban areas. Moderate and working class families make fast food their staple meals, too busy they say to cook. I think of this when I’m on 125th street which spans several avenues west and east and at one point, there were 4 McDonald’s restaurants on t think he strip. 4.

This week in Denver, school chefs around the country are learning how to incorporate fresh herbs, whole grains, ‘cooking from scratch’, in addition to the new FDA requirements for school lunches:

The rules establish calorie and sodium limits for meals, require schools to serve larger portions of fruits and vegetables and mandate that all milk be 1 percent or nonfat. Requirements for the use of whole grains are also being phased in. With more schools cooking meals from scratch — which invariably means more fresh local fruits and vegetables in the kitchens rather than processed foods — districts have largely been able to keep pace with the new regulations, nutrition experts said.

The FDA policy shift to mandating healthier ingredients for school lunches is also welcome, I also wonder about costs. The beautiful part is that the shift in school lunch requirements pushes districts to buy locally grown food, and by sheer volume of ‘cooking from scratch’ could mean job growth in this area, perhaps some cities could experience a boom in local farming if they haven’t embraced it as Detroit and Milwaukee (even New York) has.

Seeds that take root in good soil will flourish. We learned this in elementary school how to nurse a seedling to a living plant. From celebrity chefs specials, one woman’s blog, countless activists, a pediatrician’s lament to Michelle Obama regarding dietary choices of patients that ultimately led the Victory Garden on the White House grounds and her national push to fight childhood obesity unfolding in public schools, we are seeing a shift, back to the future, regarding food choices and access. Gardens are great teachers and perhaps what’s really necessary beyond changes in school lunches requirements and a national obesity campaign is also a serious commitment to health education. Something that teaches the average New York City High School kid to know that for $5 their are healthier options than just soda and chips. Perhaps that education extend to communities discourage property owners from oversaturating their commercial districts with fast food franchises, or at the very least, encourage supermarket (and their suppliers) to buy locally to make food affordable for working families. Choices, right. It’s the American way.

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