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Healthy School Food resources on the Web: School Food Part 3

The new food pyramid released in 2009
The new food pyramid released in 2009
USDA

Because there is such a range of individuals and organizations involved in the topic of school lunches, Part 3 of this series gives a selection of these. I hope this provides some context for the discussion when we hear blanket statements from news media and pundits declaring that certain practices or procedures are the norm, when in fact there are huge variations between States, between School districts and even between schools, as we've already seen in Parts 1 and 2.

Clearly there has been an increased awareness of the nutritional impact of the food being provided since Michelle Obama made the health of the nation’s children her particular mission as First Lady. Her interest led to changes in the food pyramid, and the way it is combined with other healthy habits such as exercise and sleep. Her website, “Let’s Move!” is an up to date, well resourced collection of sound advice for improving child health: http://www.letsmove.gov/

See the slide show for examples of the present food pyramid, but it is worth noting that a Dr Luise Light, who was part of the research team that developed the old Pyramid we mostly grew up with, (in 1980, implemented 1992!) has written in her book, “Death by Food Pyramid” http://amzn.to/1lSZOOt :

Where we, the USDA nutritionists, called for a base of 5-9 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, it was replaced with a paltry 2-3 servings (changed to 5-7 servings a couple of years later because an anti-cancer campaign by another government agency, the National Cancer Institute, forced the USDA to adopt the higher standard). Our recommendation of 3-4 daily servings of whole-grain breads and cereals was changed to a whopping 6-11 servings forming the base of the Food Pyramid as a concession to the processed wheat and corn industries. Moreover, my nutritionist group had placed baked goods made with white flour - including crackers, sweets and other low-nutrient foods laden with sugars and fats - at the peak of the pyramid, recommending that they be eaten sparingly. To our alarm, in the “revised” Food Guide, they were now made part of the Pyramid’s base. And, in yet one more assault on dietary logic, changes were made to the wording of the dietary guidelines from “eat less” to “avoid too much,” giving a nod to the processed-food industry interests by not limiting highly profitable “fun foods” (junk foods by any other name) that might affect the bottom line of food companies.

But even this neutralized wording of the revised Guidelines created a firestorm of angry responses from the food industry and their Congressional allies (There’s nothing new under the sun!) who believed that the “farmers’ department” (USDA) should not be telling the public to eat less of anything, including saturated fat and cholesterol, meat, eggs and sugar.

(Excerpted from an article by Kevin Cann, a fitness expert who writes for ‘Breaking Muscle’: Link here: http://bit.ly/1nIUM5A)

Thus the Farming and Food industries wielded enormous power over the Nation’s health choices in 1980, an influence that has only grown as we consider the resistance in Congress and on the right to the latest school lunch provisioning guidelines, in recent months. From what was a non-controversial mission for the First Lady, the politics of money has led to deep recent criticism. But many organizations in the frontlines agree with her! Via the AFT, I received the following letter from the Syracuse school district:

From the AFT e-Activist website:

Elisabeth:

You probably remember school lunches as hot dogs and sloppy Joes. Today, kids who come through our lunch line at William Nottingham High School in Syracuse, N.Y., get things like chicken Caesar salad with homemade low-fat dressing.

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, school nutrition guidelines have helped us make school meals healthier for the 700 students we feed every day. But Republicans in Congress—under pressure from the fast-food industry—are working to roll back those guidelines.

Join me, along with parents, educators and even first lady Michelle Obama, in calling on members of Congress to reject this harmful effort.

For far too many children, the only reliable meals they receive are the meals they get at school. Unfortunately, the School Nutrition Association—whose members include corporations like Coca-Cola Co., Tyson Foods Inc. and Pizza Hut—is lobbying to roll back rules that promote fresh foods, fruit, vegetables and whole grains in school meals.

The impact of nutritious school meals reaches far beyond the cafeteria. We have seen a difference not only in reducing obesity, but also in increased attendance and in giving kids the fuel they need to stay focused and engaged in the classroom and to lead more active lives once the bell rings. Why are some in Congress trying to take that away from kids?

Sign our petition telling Congress NOT to roll back school nutrition standards.

Like me and my team, many schools across the country work to provide healthier, even homemade, meals for students. Everything out of our cafeteria is made from scratch. And we don’t stop in the cafeteria; many of our efforts focus on educating children about the benefits of making healthy food choices so they can make those choices outside of school as well.

Congress should stop wasting time undermining nutrition standards that parents, students, educators and communities wholeheartedly support and have already worked to incorporate in our schools. Sign the petition now.

In unity,
Bernard Washington
Cook I and President of the Syracuse Teachers Association
Unit 7, Food Service

_____________________________________________________________________

To continue:

For those in New York, here is a valuable organization for local developments:

The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunches @:http://www.healthylunches.org/index.htm Take a look at tips for grassroots organizing, under the ‘Create Change’ tab. These initiatives require parental involvement, experience and commitment, which is why so many schools continue with the status quo – often active, available, engaged parents tip the balance in favor of their school environment on many levels. However, knowledge is power!

Finally in this survey, let’s remember the wild-card efforts of Jamie Oliver, who went into schools in Huntington, W. Virginia with a campaign to improve the diet of American school children for a British TV production, also shown here in the US. “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”.

http://bit.ly/1nIYuMG Under the various tabs there are great resources, volunteer opportunities and documentation for creating a menu we can live by both at school and at home. I do remember various confrontations in the series, with irate school lunch ladies who nevertheless were won over and hugging him by the end… one can only hope.

There have been and continue to be so many and varied inroads into this important service. Everyone has their opinions, their ax to grind, and the system is so vast that it can often look like a kind of anarchy impervious to the attempts at management. But recent efforts by Congress to cut back on costs at a time when more Americans face hardships of previously unimagined proportions in this 21st Century, in the richest nation in the world – and meanwhile, other areas are attempting to introduce Universal Free Lunches, to escape from the stigma and pettiness of sending out accounts to parents who owe, as I've seen, as little as $1.35c, or as much as $45.00 - the administrative burden alone makes it all pointless - it is useful to consider what has happened to our children’s health in the past 30 years (rampant obesity, diabetes and heart disease) and pay a lot closer attention to what we are doing to ourselves and why.

Part 4 will explore that issue next.