Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Changing School Lunch

School lunch
Originally uploaded by john.murden
I first started getting involved in the school food reform back when my son was in kindergarten. I remembered ghastly school lunch from my own school days, and I started hearing that things had only gotten worse since those good old "ketchup-is-a-vegetable" days in the 80's. So I started a food committee at the school, and set about trying to change school food.

I very quickly became frustrated and discouraged and completely changed courses.

School food was like a behemoth wrapped up in laws and deals and bureaucracies. In NYC alone, 800,000 lunches are prepared every day. It is like this monstrous shark that can't switch directions very easily. It's further hindered by decades of well-meaning but often idiotic laws that dictate the amount and proportion of calories from various sources that have to go on each tray.

In addition to the bureacracy problem, there's the nutrition problem. Because: what is a healthy lunch? The NYC Coalition for Healthy Schools thinks it should be vegan. Yech. I'm not into veganism. Lots of nutritionists and parents think it should be low-fat. Like, pizzas made with low fat cheese. Disgusting! Even efforts to use local foods backfire, like when the Office of School Foods stopped using low-fat Stonyfield Yogurt in favor of a NYS yogurt that was non-fat and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

And then there was the fact that even when pilot programs served great food, the kids wouldn't necessarily eat it. (One research team found to get kids to accept a healthy lunch program, you had to serve great food AND have kids grow/prepare the food AND they had study it in the classrooms.)

Is it surprising that I stopped focusing on school food? My attitude was: let's focus on something that we can actually change.

Until this year. Last spring my kids' school was accepted into a pilot program created by the Office of School Foods and the NYS Agriculture Dept. It's called Garden to Cafeteria Day. About 25 schools are participating, and most of them are growing their own salad greens. We have a relationship with Added Value, an educational farm in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, so we're harvesting greens from them. Then, and this is the exciting part, the school cafeteria is going to prepare and serve them as part of lunch.

It's a small step, but an exciting one. I'm especially gratified to see how many people are supporting this -- our principal, our school's nutritionist, the teachers, the parents.

The schools are asked to make a day of it, so we're having a Harvest Museum, with tasting tables and songs and artwork and science projects all on display in the cafeteria. It's going to be very sweet.

It's happening next Wednesday. I'll be taking pictures, so I'll keep you all posted.

No comments: