by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: School-food

May 12 2017

Weekend reading: Power of a Plant

Stephen Ritz with Suzie Boss.  The Power of a Plant: A Teacher’s Odyssey to Grow Healthy Minds and Schools.  Rodale, 2017.  

Image result for Power of a plant ritz

I did a blurb for this most entertaining book:

Here’s proof positive that one person can make a difference.  Stephen Ritz uses food plants—the Bronx Green Machine–to transform kids and their school environments.  You can do this too!

May 1 2017

Government’s food regressions: FDA and USDA

It’s pretty depressing to watch what’s happening to the gains in food and nutrition policy so hard won in the last few years.

Nothing but bad news:

Menu labeling:  The FDA is submitting interim final rules, a tactic to delay implementation of menu labeling, which was supposed to start on May 5.  Why?  The National Association of Convenience Stores and the National Grocers Association filed a petition asking for the delay.   Pizza sellers have been lobbying like mad to avoid having to post calories.

Food labels (calories, added sugars): As the Washington Post puts it, the food industry is counting on the current administration to back off on anything that might help us all make better food choices.  At least 17 food industry groups have asked for a delay in the compliance date for new food labels—for three years.  Why?  They are a burden to industry.  The soon-to-be FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, said this about food labels:

As a general matter, I support providing clear, accurate, and understandable information to American consumers to help inform healthy dietary choices,” Gottlieb wrote, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. “ … However, I am mindful of the unique challenges that developing and communicating such information can pose, particularly on small, independent businesses.”

Definition of dietary fiber: The American Bakers Association wants the FDA to take back its new, stricter definition of dietary fiber, (it excludes synthetic fiber) due to go into effect in July 2018.

School meals: The USDA says it is about to announce new school meal “flexibility” (translation: rollback of nutrition standards).

The score: Big business 4, public health 0

Happy May Day.

For further reading:

Addition: It gets worse.  Politico reports that the congressional spending bill:

Contains a rider blocking funds from being used to work on “any regulations applicable to food manufacturers for population-wide sodium reduction actions or to develop, issue, promote or advance final guidance applicable to food manufacturers for long term population-wide sodium reduction actions until the date on which a dietary reference intake report with respect to sodium is completed.”

Politico also points out that the previous draft of the appropriation bill merely encouraged FDA to delay its salt reduction proposal until the reference intake report is updated (this, by the way, will take years).

More documents:

Apr 17 2017

Alas, farewell Dana Woldow

Bettina Siegel writes with sad news: Dana Woldow died last week.

I will miss her.  Dana was my go-to person for information about school meal funding, a fierce advocate for getting more funding for school food service.  If you wanted to understand school food politics, her columns at Beyond Chron were essential reading.  The last one was posted September 19, 2016 with good and bad news about San Francisco’s school meals.

I often referred to her columns in this blog.  Here are some examples dating back to 2008:

  • Feb 20, 2008: Thanks to Dana Woldow of the San Francisco Unified School District for sending this link to resources for making school meals healthier. Check out the salad bar video (way down at the bottom of the list of links). The city now has salad bars in 25 schools.
  • Aug 25, 2008: And here’s a commentary in the San Francsico Chronicle from some folks on the front line of school lunches in the San Francisco Bay area.  Even a little more money would go a long way.
  • Sept 5, 2009: Dana Woldow’s terrific 3-minute video detailing the situation in San Francisco’s public schools – as seen by kids in that system.  As the kids put it, “We need better school food!”
  • May 24, 2013: Fortunately, Dana Woldow, also a long time food advocate, has just posted an interview with Ms. Siegel on just those points.
  • Nov 5, 2014: Dana Woldow, who has covered these elections closely on the website Beyond Chron, has this to say about the Berkeley win.
  • Feb 17, 2015: As to what all this [the fight over school food] is about, see Dana Woldow’s explanation in Beyond Chron.  As she bluntly puts the matter, “It would be comforting to think that SNA members are making those decisions based on what is most nutritious and healthy for growing kids, but unfortunately they are just as likely to be influenced by the recommendations of Big Food companies peddling processed crap.”
  • March 9, 2015: Dana Woldow argues that the school food scene would be much easier if schools actually got enough money to pay for what they serve and for decent wages to school food service workers.
  • July 21, 2015: Dana Woldow explains what’s really happening with schools that drop out of the meal programs ostensibly on the grounds that the new standards cost too much.

Dana: I will miss your tough, on-the-ground analysis of school food politics.  You always called it as you saw it.  And you saw plenty.

May others take up your cause.  Now.

Apr 11 2017

The rolling back of nutrition standards

Rolling back nutrition standards #1: Added Sugars

The new administration is hard at work undoing the gains of the last one.

In my post on the nominee for FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, I noted that he’d been saying nothing about food.  Now he is.

He told Congress this week that he’s open to “pushing back the Nutrition Facts label update deadline [of July 2018] to align it with USDA’s coming GMO labeling regulation.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has plenty say about this.  As it explains, the food industry wants the

deadline to be pushed back to align with the USDA’s coming GMO disclosure regulation — a measure that isn’t likely to kick in for a few years (at least)… Gottlieb suggested during the hearing that he may be open to aligning the deadlines…You want to try to consolidate the label changes when you’re making label changes as a matter of public health, he said, adding that requiring companies to update their labels repeatedly is costly.

But wait!  Doesn’t this sound just like what food company leaders said in March in a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price?

On behalf of the food and beverage industry, we are writing to express our concern with the current compliance deadline of July 2018 for the Nutrition Facts and Serving Size (NFL) rules and to request extending the deadline to May 2021.

May 2021?  Let’s hope we all live that long.

Reminder: Everyone would be healthier eating less sugar.

Rolling back nutrition standards #2: School food

According to Politico, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts wants the USDA to undo the school meal nutrition standards put in place by the Obama administration.  In a letter to the USDA Acting Deputy Secretary, Roberts said:

I urge you to act administratively and provide immediate relief from certain egregious aspects of the standards, particularly in regards to the rapidly approaching sodium limits and the dairy and whole grain requirements,..After providing immediate relief, I urge you to provide long-term flexibility and certainty for our schools, our food service directors, and other stakeholders.

Reminder: the school nutrition standards are working just fine.

Feb 20 2017

NYC breakfast program: good, but oddly advertised

Charles Platkin of Hunter’s Food Policy Center sent me this photo taken on the subway a week or so ago.

A croissant to advertise the school system’s breakfasts?

Charles and a colleague greatly favor the school breakfast program, but the ad?  Not so much.  They discuss it in a post: “Unhealthy Health Advertising May Stimulate Eating and Send the Wrong Message.”

Here’s my quote:

“I’m in favor of kids getting breakfast in schools. It saves lots of problems for parents and ensures that kids start the day with some food in their stomachs. It’s wonderful that the New York City Schools are doing this. With that said, the devil is in the details. I assume that all breakfasts meet USDA nutrition standards.

But croissants? These can be delicious—all that butter–but I wouldn’t exactly call them “healthy” and I’m wondering whose bright idea it was to choose that item to display. Looking at the menus for December, they are largely grain-based—bread, granola, tortillas, bagels, cereals, and the like—along with fruit and milk.   I think they look pretty good—they certainly could look a lot worse–but the proof is in the eating. Some parents will hate these breakfasts (too much sugar, too many packages, not enough protein). Others ought to be grateful. Ideally, cooks would be making delicious hot breakfasts for kids in school but that isn’t going to happen and from my standpoint this is a reasonable compromise. Presumably, kids who ate breakfast at home won’t need or take these items. I’d like to see them in action to really get an idea of how this is working.

Feb 10 2017

Weekend reading: Jane Black on school lunches

Jane Black sent me a link to her Huffington Post article on school lunches.  As she puts it, “it’s a long read—perfect for a snowy weekend.

Indeed it is.  Riveting, and brilliantly illustrated.
This is Jane’s astonishingly well researched account of what happened to school meals in Huntington, West Virginia—after Jamie Oliver left.

Surprise: They got better!

The subtitle explains why: “How an unassuming bureaucrat outsmarted Jamie Oliver and pulled off an honest-to-god miracle in one of America’s unhealthiest cities.”

The conclusion:

What McCoy had done in Huntington was exactly the kind of thing Republicans claim to celebrate. She wasn’t a Washington bureaucrat telling people to do it her way, or no way at all; she was a well-intentioned local who had figured out what made sense for her community and acted on it.

This is a truly inspiring “yes we can” story, so worth reading—and so welcome.

Thanks Jane.

Jan 19 2017

Some progress in healthier school meals

I am late in getting to this report on school meals from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, which came out in early December. 

Their jointly sponsored Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project took a good hard look at how schools were faring under the Obama administration’s rules for healthier lunches, breakfasts, and snacks. 

Some of their findings:

  • 6 in 10 directors said they faced only a few or no ongoing obstacles to meeting updated breakfast requirements; 4 in 10 said the same of the lunch guidelines.
  • For breakfast and lunch, the commonly cited challenges were sodium and whole grain targets.
  • Most programs use a mix of strategies—three, on average—to encourage students to eat nutritious meals (e.g., salad bars).
  • Holding taste tests with students and redistributing uneaten, sealed foods were among the most effective ways to reduce waste (but only about 40% of schools were doing this). 
  • Programs preparing more foods from scratch and increased the use of salad bars were more likely to report that student participation rose or was unchanged from 2011-2015.
  • Two-thirds of schools reported compliance with the Smart Snacks nutrition standards.
  • Equipment and labor costs were the most frequently reported financial concerns.
  • 84 percent of program directors reported rising or stable combined revenue (meal reimbursements plus snack and beverage sales) in the past year. 

Most schools are managing; some are still having problems.  My guess is that what I’ve always observed is still true: if the school food director and the principal are committed to serving healthier meals, they find a way to do that.  If not, they don’t.  Schools that cook from scratch do better—but that also takes commitment.

Most needed are (1) enough money to do it right, and (2) education, training, and decent pay for school food service personnel.

Documents and links:

 

Dec 7 2016

Food Politics Alaska Style: School Meals

I was in Alaska last week and got to spend a few days in Utqiagvik, the town formerly known as Barrow—thanks to an invitation from diabetes educators Angela Valdez and Laura Thomas.

Utqiagvik/Barrow is the northernmost city in the United States, several hundred miles above the arctic circle.  It has a population of about 4000, of which 60% are Inupiak, historically and today subsistence whale hunters.  

I visited the Fred Ipalook elementary school and observed its USDA federally subsidized lunch program for  100% of the kids. 

The meal consisted of a frozen juice cup (made from multiple juice concentrates), and previously frozen mashed potatoes, corn, and a steak patty.  All kids got the requisite carton of milk.

The lunch period was barely 20 minutes.  The littlest kids barely had time to eat the frozen juice, which they all ate first.

These kids don’t drink milk (for reasons of culture and lactose intolerance) and the milk cartons were mostly thrown out.   This seemed especially wasteful because milk is expensive here.  All foods are flown in and heavy ones cost a lot to send.

I wondered about alternative sources of vitamin D for kids who don’t drink milk (whale blubber for those who have it?).

Sunshine is not an option.  Here, for example, is my tourist photo taken at 11:00 a.m.  The sun never makes it over the horizon this time of year.

Tomorrow: Utqiagvik/Barrow supermarket and some comparison price shopping.

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