When I think about what I used to eat in elementary, middle and high school for lunch as compared to what I choose eat now, its truly amazing the change I see in my eating habits. As children, we are more apt to be attracted to shiny packages, wrappers, sugary and salty foods that aren’t necessarily healthy and wholesome for us. Sure, I got milk at school, but I almost always chose chocolate milk. While its better than drinking a sugar-packed and empty calorie soda or “juice” box, there is so much more that we can be opening our childrens’ eyes to from a younger age. I was the kid that refused to eat broccoli and loathed the nights when vegetable soup was for dinner. Here I am, a vegetarian and local food enthusiast at the age of 22, the last person my mom ever thought would choose veggies over anything else.
We are in need of a food revolution. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three children born in the year 2000 is on track to develop Type II diabetes. For minorities, the prediction worsens to one in two. FoodCorps is a developing service program whose vision is to recruit young adults for a yearlong term of public service in school food systems. Once stationed, FoodCorps members will build Farm to School supply chains, expand food system and nutrition education programs, and build and tend school food gardens. The ultimate goal of the project is to increase the health and prosperity of vulnerable children, while investing in the next generation of farmers. Its programs like this one that recognize the need for tearing apart the broken way our food system works; why do Froot Loops cost less than wholesome, local fruit from the farmers’ market?
This very question has the potential to be addressed in the child nutrition bill in the form of school lunches and federal assistance for healthier school lunches. Federal funds will be allocated for the installation of school gardens, school districts in areas determined high-poverty, or with dense concentrations of low-income children, can receive federal reimbursement for free or reduced-priced meals and the bill allocates funds to research the causes and consequences of hunger and to develop projects to end childhood hunger. The NSLP (National School Lunch Program) allows any public or nonprofit school to participate in the program, therefore allowing students to buy lunches that meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (Food Pyramid) and children at or below the poverty level are eligible for free lunches.
This isn’t all “new ” news; food activists like Alice Waters have pioneered the healthy local food movement for years, blazing a trail for others to follow with her Edible Schoolyard initiative. By letting kids in on the conversation and involving them in the process of seeing where their food comes from and what a great thing it is to have a hand in growing your own food, we are refusing to take part in the “Obesity Generation” and instead become the advocates for healthier, local foods. The Multnomah Food Action Plan is a 25 year plan to create a more inclusive food system for Multnomah County, Oregon and beyond. By recognizing the need for community engagement and outlining definitive actions to take, this plan is one that every city and town in America should take a page from.
In an interview with Green Patriot Radio, my wonderful fellow environmentalist and farmer friend Alexandra Gross talks about this very need of healthier food for our children. It is not an issue we can put on the back burner any longer. One of the schools I work with this year created a community garden last year and this year have begun harvesting beans and other vegetables for use in their school cafeteria. Their surplus is given to their next door neighbor, the Oregon Food Bank. What better way to instill in our children a real value of wholesome food?
Look at the schools in your community. What are we putting onto those lunch trays? What is in the vending machine? Would your child be able to pronounce the first three ingredients in everything they eat? Most of us might not know the answer to these questions. Its time we step up and show our children we value them and we demand healthy food for healthy growth and healthy living.