Insights by Goldie
Important summer reading

Sound Consumer | August 2009

by Goldie Caughlan
Quality Standards Specialist

No, I don’t have a steamy romance novel or crime thriller to suggest. The summer reading I recommend will update you on important regional and federal legislation that could improve school food quality dramatically and foster healthier eating habits.

The Child Nutrition Act expires September 30, which means it’s up for review and reauthorization — an opportunity that occurs only once every five years. Visit www.schoolfoods.org/resources.html for a quick tutorial on what needs to be changed. The act determines what foods are in the public school lunch program and also defines the WIC, Child and Adult Care Food, and Summer Food Service programs.

There was little advocacy work or media attention on this policy during the last reauthorization cycle five years ago, but now a number of national campaigns dedicated to improving school food are providing critical mass for change. In June, a group of moms known as the Healthy School Food Brigade marched the halls of Congress to demand healthier food choices in schools.

The brigade was a culmination of lobbying efforts by a social action campaign from the producers of the new movie, Food Inc., and the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Their campaign advocates specifically for HR 1324 and S 934: “Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009.”

These bills amend the Child Nutrition Act to require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish science-based nutrition standards for foods served in schools — other than foods served under the school lunch or breakfast programs. See foodincmovie.com/hungry-for-change-cafeteria.php for more about the brigade and the ongoing campaign, and to sign a petition in support of these important bills.

Other organizations also are leading campaigns that will improve school food. Food & Water Watch is working to get rBGH out of school milk (school milk in Seattle already is rBGH-free, but if you live elsewhere ask your school food service provider), and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is calling for much stronger nutrition standards nationwide. (Visit Food & Water Watch and CSPI's Nutrition Policy's Web pages.)

The National Farm to School Network, the Community Food Security Coalition, and School Food FOCUS are collaborating to implement programs that provide fresh, nutritious food to schools and a profitable, stable market for local farmers.

Their project, “One Tray at a Time,” will launch officially this fall when Congress is back in session. The “One Tray at a Time” project asks Congress to enact $50 million in mandatory funding, which would cover start-up costs for 100 to 500 Farm to School projects with up to $100,000 each. See farmtoschool.org/files/publications_192.pdf (PDF) for a preview.

It’s also important to hook into Slow Food USA’s new “Time for Lunch” campaign. The campaign’s goal is to send a message to Congress that it’s time to provide real food for school children. Visit Slow Food USA to sign a petition and contact relevant legislators. You also can download a free tool kit to organize a Labor Day “Eat-In,” a public potluck perfect for organizing parents in your school community. Get them on board!

Washington is ahead of the game, having passed the Local Farms-Healthy Kids (LFHK) legislation in 2008. The LFHK bill became a state law with strong bi-partisan support and Governor Gregoire’s signature.

Initially, $600,000 was allocated annually to provide fresh produce for daily snacks to students reaching 25 schools, but budget cuts reduced funding to $300,000 for the coming school year and will go to only 12 schools. Please contact your local legislators and tell them to make healthy, local school food a priority.

For information about connecting Washington state schools with local farms, contact the state farm-to-school program through the Washington State Department of Agriculture, by e-mailing farmtoschool@agr.wa.gov or visit agr.wa.gov/farmtoschool. Read up on model district and school food policies and the sort of technical assistance available to schools and farms.

School food has long been associated with greasy tater tots, mystery meat and vending machines, but with your help, we can make real change. Be informed and join these campaigns. Together we can make sure kids eat good, nutritious meals at school here and nationally.

More about: health concerns, nutrition

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