School Food

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Most parents know that junkfood… can lead to sickness. And yet most public school lunch programs across the US serve primarily processed, low-nutrient food to kids, 5 days a week. Sprayed, preserved and colored factory foods – high in starch, fats and sweeteners are cheap and tasty… but damage our health, leaving us vulnerable to disease. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not yet a priority for federally sanctioned, industrial food suppliers who deliver nutrient deficient school lunches to kids.

Boulder Colorado’s Chef Ann Cooper is a hands-on school food administrator, traveling educator and food activist who sees widespread food injustice. She says the ‘revolving doors’ of corporate-USDA relations… commodify and control processed school food – that make too many kids sick – while being promoted by billions in private advertising each year. We spoke with Cooper in between her talks in Brazil and India.

Cooper: Changing school food is really, really important. We all win when we feed kids fresh, cooked from scratch, healthy, clean and delicious foods. And most schools don’t do that and so it really important to start down that road. And when we talk about changing children’s relationship to food, we have to go after 5 major challenges; food, finance, facilities, human resources and marketing. Food, where are we gonna get it and make sure its good and healthy and clean. Finances, how do we gonna pay for it because the government only gives us $2.88 for a reimbursable free meal. Human resources, how do we get all of our staff trained to cook again because for so many decades school food has been highly processed and just re-heated. So when we look at all these things, we have to start really changing out the food. We have to toward locally sourced food, pesticide chemical free whenever possible. We need to teach kids to eat all kinds of food so we need education for the kids and we certainly need education for the employees as well. So the big solution here is teach our children, the next generation, the symbiotic relationship between healthy food, healthy earth and healthy kids.

Cooper says concerned parents, food staff and educators get it and are bringing locally and regionally produced farm and ranch products to school cafeterias across the country. Meanwhile, non-GMO and organic producers are developing steady supplies of wholesome food for schools… and hospitals, restaurants and markets. She says healthy food must be promoted through education… beyond just at school and home.

Cooper: We need a national marketing campaign that teaches kids that real food is cool food and delicious food. And, if we can do that, we’ll have amazing success.

Cooper equates processed industrial food served in schools… with sickness and says it plays a big role in epidemics like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Cooper: If we can turn this around, if we can get our children to eat fresh foods, fresh vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins, they then will be healthier. We may be able to turn the tide on the obesity crises. And the looming health care crisis, even bigger than we have today, that will hit us when the next generation and those to come start having diabetes at a younger and younger age. The additional benefit to this is if we start eating a diet that’s at least 50% fruits and vegetable, whole grains and very light on animal protein, we will see climate change and the world become a much better place.

Among others, The Farm to School and Local Food Support networks help grow healthy food sources for schools. They offer safer options that help offset hidden costs, such as climate change, caused by sprayed of processed food. Cooper say its all about the kids.

Cooper: The most fundamental, the most important thing in our world is our children. We have to change their relationship to food. We have to help them understand and educate them about the relationship between a healthy planet and their health. We have to be assured that every child, every day, they have healthy delicious food in school and if you want that, help your school serve better food. Get involved in your community and assure the future of all of our children.

For more info on the benefits of healthy school food, please visit us at gooddirtradio.org.

NO NATION IS HEALTHIER THAN ITS KIDS.It all starts at home and school kitchens, not in Washington DC. There is good reason to support local and regional food in your area.

I’m Tom Bartels and I’m Tami Graham. Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news…. for a change.

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