Bon Apetit Management Company (“food services for a sustainable future”) offers an online guide to developing school gardens. Called Student Gardens and Food Service, it is a step-by-step guide to planning a garden, growing food in it, using the food in the school’s food service program, and improving the soil through composting. Should work for other prospective gardeners too!
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How’s this for community organizing? Slow Food’s national Eat-In to support legislation to get better food into schools is happening this Labor Day. So far, 295 groups throughout the country have signed up. Interested in participating? Here’s the information.
Slow Food explains what this is about:
On Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009, people in communities all over the country will sit down to share a meal with their neighbors and kids. This National Day of Action will send a clear message to Congress: It’s time to provide America’s children with real food at school.
Getting Congress’ attention is a big job, and we need your help. On Sept. 7, attend an Eat-In taking place near you.
If there isn’t an Eat-In in your area, sign up to organize one. Sept. 7 is right around the corner, so it doesn’t have to be a big event. You can gather your friends for an outdoor picnic on Labor Day, take a photo (the more creative, the better) and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org immediately following your picnic. That’s a terrific way to show your support.
Regardless of the way you show your support, please let us know about your plans, so we can add it to the map. If you’d like to spread the word about your picnic and invite your neighbors to join you, please download our Organizer Toolkit, which has suggestions that you may find useful.
Sounds like fun! And if enough people get involved, we may even get some action from Congress.
My latest Food Matters column in the San Francisco Chronicle is about school food. As always, the column is a Q and A
Q: School is starting soon. Is there any hope that school food will ever improve?
A: Yes, there is. The food revolution is upon us. Go into any school that has joined the revolution – many have – and you will see kids eating recognizable foods, helping themselves from salad bars, finishing what they take, all within the typical 30-minute lunch period. And nary a chicken nugget or soda in sight. Teachers in such places swear that the kids behave and learn better, do not bounce off the walls after lunch, and show fewer signs of eating disorders.
From what I’ve seen, this miracle requires a committed principal, a dedicated school food service director, and at least a few teachers and parents who care what kids are eating. If the food service people know the kids’ names, it’s an especially good sign. With such elements in place, the food will be real and taste good enough for the kids to want to eat it.
But the school food revolution can do more. It can turn the cafeteria into a teachable moment. I discovered that on my first teaching job when I saw how easy it was to teach biology through nutrition. Everyone eats.
Schools can use what’s served for lunch to teach the chemical composition of food and its biological effects. They can use recipes to teach mathematics, food choice to teach political science, and the entire eating experience to teach literature, English or foreign languages. Kids can be taught about food plants and animals, how they are produced, and the associated monetary, labor and environmental costs.
Individuals like you can make this happen. The national model, of course, is Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley. If your dream is to have your school connect food production to eating, take a look at Berkeley’s Center for Ecoliteracy’s how-to guide, “Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment.” (Go to ecoliteracy.org.)
Although many schools are not equipped to grow or cook food, they can still produce healthy meals that kids want to eat. I’ve just met with some of the people who work with the British chef, Jamie Oliver, on his school dinner campaigns. Oliver used his cooking skills and celebrity status to produce revolutionary changes in English school meals which, if anything, were worse than ours. I like his ideas because they sound much like mine, and I especially enjoy the British way he puts them:
- Ban the junk. Please, let’s. It’s time we got rid of vending machines, a la carte service and everything else that competes with federally funded school meals. If we did that, we wouldn’t have to have all those nutrient-based arguments about what’s allowed in vending machines. Kids need water? How about fixing the drinking fountains or supplying tappable containers of filtered water as I’ve seen done in the Berkeley schools.
- Big love to dinner ladies. This is Oliver’s way of calling for better support – financial, material and emotional – to the school food service people. I vote yes.
- Teach kids about food. Teach kids to grow, cook and taste food, and they will never look at fast food or food “just for kids” the same way again.
- Half a quid a kid! Translation: School meal programs need and deserve more money. In American schools, the federal lunch program is required to be self-supporting while everything else is subsidized. Education officials in San Francisco tell me they know how to produce healthy, tasty meals for kids but they desperately need more money to do it right. Slow Food USA is sponsoring a Time for Lunch campaign aimed at getting legislators to better support school meals. Join it. The program kicks off with an Eat-In on Sept. 7. (Go to slowfoodusa.org for more information.)
These are great ideas, but I don’t think Oliver takes them quite far enough. I want another action that I think is essential for American school meal programs:
- Make school meals universal. Our present system requires a hugely expensive local and national bureaucracy expressly devoted to preventing kids who are deemed ineligible from getting free or reduced-price meals in schools. This ugly system stigmatizes poor kids and makes the kids of illegal immigrants go hungry.
Why not just say that we think all kids should be fed breakfast and lunch while they are in school? Doing this would allow all that bureaucratic waste to be applied to the meals themselves, making it easier for the “dinner ladies” to obtain better food and be paid decent wages.
The school year begins soon. Here’s your opportunity.
[Marion Nestle is the author of “Food Politics,” “Safe Food” and “What to Eat,” and is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University. E-mail her at email@example.com and read her previous columns at sfgate.com/food. This article appeared on page K – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle. © 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.]
The USDA has a couple of new reports out on school meals. One looks at the dismal rates of participation in the School Breakfast program. Only about 30% of those eligible actually get breaksfast. How come? Kids are more likely to eat the breakfast when it is served in the classroom (rather than the lunchroom) and when they are given time to eat it.
The second study also proves the obvious: kids who eat breakfast eat less junk food and are likely to be better nourished (and, therefore, behave and learn better).
I know the USDA has to do these studies in order to satisfy taxpayers’ investment in the programs but shouldn’t our society ensure that all hungry kids are fed decently? So many of the financial problems with the school meals programs could be solved if they were made universal (and we didn’t need to spend all that money to determine eligibility and make sure no kid gets a meal she isn’t entitled to). Universal school meals would also take away the poverty stigma. And yes, let’s serve breakfasts in classrooms and give kids time to eat. After all, the research backs up those ideas, no?
Investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health estimated the toll of behavioral contributors to early mortality. Obesity, they say, is the #3 cause of death after cigarette smoking and high blood pressure.
Dutch researchers say smoking is what kills people. Obesity just leads to disability.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says schools could do something to help prevent obesity if they got their act together. It provides a guide to doing so.
Adam Drewnowski, my colleague and friend at the University of Washington, says: if you want to understand obesity, take a look at what poverty makes people eat.
And Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockfeller University tells Nature that obesity is neither an epidemic nor a disease of lifestyle. It’s all in the genes and in evolution.
I say (see What to Eat): eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food!
Kids who go to high schools located within 500 feet of a fast food outlet are fatter than kids whose schools are further away, according to a study in the March American Journal of Public Health. The Los Angeles Times took a look, mapped the fast food places near several local high schools, and found no lack of them. Are kids generally fatter because they have easier access to fast food? Or is that the only kind of food available? Or are fast food outlets a marker for unhealthy neighborhoods?
Whatever. The Times quotes an NRA spokesman arguing that the study doesn’t mean a thing. I can understand why the NRA might be worried. What if cities stopped allowing fast food outlets near schools? That’s just what the Los Angeles city council tried to do last year. With some research evidence to back up the idea, this study might kick off a national trend.
And maybe, just maybe, kids might start eating healthier meals at school?
Thanks to CSPI’s Margo Wootan for sending the link to this nifty video about school lunch lobbying (she is featured in it, eloquently). The video, made by the American News Project, takes place at a January 28 hearing on school lunch nutrition regulations run by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The IOM is working on developing science-based criteria for the nutritional quality of school meals. Take a look at who is in the audience. Question: What are they doing there? Answer: The USDA buys enormous quantities of food commodities to supply schools enrolled in federal school meal programs. The video gets a 5-star YouTube rating, and for good reason.
It’s always nice to have some evidence for what you think makes sense. David Katz and his Yale colleagues analyzed a bunch of studies attempting to improve both school nutrition and physical fitness. Taken one by one, these studies generally showed negligible improvements in body weight, if any. But these investigators analyzed a selected group of 19 (of 64) studies that met their inclusion criteria. Taken collectively, these studies showed that the interventions improved body weight. The overall effects on weight were small, but in the hoped-for direction. Katz et al’s conclusion: combined nutrition and physical activity interventions are worth doing, especially when they include parental involvement along with cutting down on TV.
If the link to the paper doesn’t work for you, try the abstract on PubMed.