I had the opportunity to speak to the 4th graders at Wells Rd School a couple of weeks ago. Mrs. Cloukey asked me to speak. The children were doing research for opinion pieces they were writing and after reading articles and watching a video on the subject of school lunch, they asked me to serve as a further source. I was asked to come speak because as a farmer, a mother and a community member, I am known to have strong opinions on the topic. In fact, I spoke to you about school lunch two years ago (you can find those comments on my website). I made the same case to the 4th graders that I made to you two years ago: processed food has no business in our schools.
It was a fun back and forth with my engaged audience. I first asked them why they came to school in the first place? Hands went up with answers like “to learn”, “schools have resources we don’t have at home”, and “teachers”. Then I asked if learning about nutrition was important. Yes, they said emphatically, citing that you could only live a certain amount of days (we weren’t really clear on EXACTLY), without food or you DIE. And, food helps keep you healthy. I told them, that in fact the administration agrees because there is curriculum about nutrition taught in our schools. Then we talked about messages inside their school. Do you have R rated books in the library? I asked them. NO, they answered. Well, how about those motorcycles they let you ride out on the playground… those must be fun, I egged them on. After some roaring laughter, we agreed that teachers and the administration don’t offer just any toys and games to play with on the playground, but only ones that are appropriate for the ages of the kids at school. What about signs like these: do you see signs like these in the lunchroom?
I wrote on the board:
PUT YOU’RE TRAY HERE
Laughter again. Of course not. Because we don’t teach math and grammar ONLY in the classroom. Positive messages are posted everywhere in school. And that’s why we should give positive messages through the food we offer them every day. After a discussion about what is good food and testing my hypothesis: Good Food Grows, it was clear that processed food is not good food. Quick test for you: Do Doritos grow? Pop Tarts? I’ve been combing through my seed catalogs for a few weeks now and still haven’t seen a Doritos seed.
This conversation is again timely because the US government recently released the 2015-2020 Federal Dietary Guidelines. This year, more than ever, the guidelines are clear: processed food is NOT good for our bodies. We NEED to limit added sugar and salt. But this is not a discussion about outlawing processed food. If you want to eat a bowl of Doritos this weekend while watching the Superbowl, I promise I’m not coming over to your house to grab them out of your kid's hand. I’m not lobbying Stop and Shop to stop selling anything in a package. I’m asking you. School. Stop telling our kids that added sugar and salt is OK for their bodies. That’s exactly what you’re doing by putting a pile of chips right at the end of the lunch line. And, honestly, you’re telling parents it’s OK too. But as parents, we’re not there to see how our kids are moderating. And many of them aren’t. Talk to the cashier of the Wells Rd. lunch line. I did last week. She is very upset about the kids she sees who end up buying and eating a strawberry milk, a couple of cookies and a bag of chips for lunch.
Now, I understand that the school lunch program needs to be profitable. We need to think outside the box and brainstorm new ways of doing things in the lunchroom. Because it is unethical to be balancing the budget of the school lunch program by offering our kids snacks that current science says are not good for their bodies.
I spoke to you about this two years ago and we made some progress. Healthy School Lunch certification is a great thing. But just because our government says that Baked Doritos can be included in a “healthy lunch”, doesn’t mean we have to toe the line too. We’re not in the pockets of the Big Food companies they way the USDA is. I’m bringing this up again now because the stakes are about to get higher: Next school year we will be sending our kindergarteners, our 5 year-olds to Kelly Lane where they will have access to a healthy hot lunch every day. Please don’t send them the message that chips and ice cream are part of that healthy lunch.
I’m excited to get to work on this. I had a great talk with Dave and Rosemary at the Wells Road cafeteria last week and am looking forward to meeting with them again to brainstorm ideas. But in order to make lasting change in our community, the Board of Ed and the administration need to embrace a vision of health for our kids and then we need to put it into action in every cafeteria in the district. I very much appreciate your time. I am always reachable and would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.