Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Healthy School Lunches Campaign

There's been a lot of talk lately about the food in schools. Jamie Oliver, Britain's Naked Chef, started his Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution where he is trying to change the foods served in American schools and homes. Jamie has already started a healthy eating campaign for the schools in Britain that was considered successful.

I watched the first two episodes of Food Revloution on Hulu, and while I think Jamie started out a bit cocky and rough and definitely from a culturally different mentality, I think he's adjusting with some humility and maybe now understands that he's really battling an entire system. And this systems is beyond just a city or the individuals in the city, in encompasses USDA, state and federal bureaucracy, and things like money channeled away from school budgets. It's a huge problem to tackle with lots of barriers. But I appreciate his genuine desire to help and the attention he is bringing to the cause. I realize that this is TV and there's a bit of bias involved in the storytelling, so I don't know how everything really went down, but I'm interested to see what happens in the remaining episodes.

And recently a blog about school lunches got some media attention. An anonymous school teacher is eating the school lunches the kids get for a solid year, sharing them and her experiences with us on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project. She recently commented that she is leaning towards vegetarianism after she is finished with this project.

A few years ago I stumbled across the blog of Jennifer McCann, The Vegan Lunchbox. Every day she packed a vegan lunch for her son in a laptop lunch kit, took photos to share the food and recipes with readers, and then gave her son's reviews of the food. I was a new vegan at the time and it gave me hope it was possible to give kids healthy, tasty-to-them vegan foods for lunch. From my own experience, both healthy and vegan foods are hard to come by in school. I wasn't sure how I would be able to do it because I barely cooked for myself, but I still had hope that all I would need was her cookbook and a determination for any future offspring not to learn poor eating habits.

And it's definitely something I've thought about since I went vegan, especially related to having healthy vegan options in schools. I don't have children or anything, but at my last job I worked with kids and had to purchase and feed them snacks. A lot of them are so programmed to eat junk food that offering them healthy food options that they will eat and within a certain budget can be quite challenging. Dr. Neal Barnard says that it only takes about 21 days to change our taste buds and eating habits. I think with kids, it takes a little more to change their food behaviors and attitudes and to get them to try new things once they've been in our current food system, but we shouldn't give up on it and just cater to their chicken nugget, pizza, and french fry demands.

While I didn't eat particularly healthfully as a kid at home, I definitely didn't eat healthfully at lunch in school. For almost a year in junior high, my lunches were composed of vanilla shakes and french fries, alternating with cheese pizza. Even then the portions were huge! One year in high school I pretty much ate two Taco Bell bean burritos every day, as they were sold on campus. And the salads I did have were pathetic mounds of iceberg lettuce, shredded cheddar cheese, a couple of tomatoes, a crouton, and maybe some bits of carrots or green peppers smothered in ranch dressing. At least, that's all I remember eating. Those were the vegetarian options. And that was at a well-respected school in a higher socio-economic area.

I'm determined to feed any kids that I am responsible for, healthy vegan meals. But I'd really like to help other kids too, they are our future. And I think the first step is offering healthy vegetarian meals in schools. But at the same time, we've got to get the kids to make those educated choices or the people in power will feel it is a waste of money.

I'm particularly excited about the work the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has been doing. PCRM has been working on the  Healthy School Lunches Campaign and here is some recent news on a bill that has been introduced to Congress this past month.

A press release from March 18, 2010:
"The Healthy School Meals Act of 2010, H.R. 4870—which will be introduced this week by Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado—would reward school districts with additional food aid if they offer most students plant-based vegetarian food choices every day. The bill, which has already drawn support from Rep. John Conyers and 30 other co-sponsors, would create a pilot program to provide select schools with high-fiber, low-fat vegetarian protein products and nondairy milk options."

That's just awesome! Though I certainly wish things would happen faster. I am really hoping those kids choose the healthier options and prove the pilot a success.
And lastly, here is a little clip with Heather Mills talking briefly about her VBites and feeding children vegan meals.


Andrea said...

Ahh what a pity that I can't watch the program with Jamie Oliver in America. Although it sounds very much like the UK version, but it would be so interesting for me to see how the system works in the US and whether the barriers he encounters are the same or totally different.

Well and I also would be very happy seeing more vegetarian and vegan option on menus (not only in Schools but also many restaurants). It often seems chefs lose their creativity if they hear vegetarian or vegan or as if they would be terrified offering broader variety of vegetarian dishes.

Kenike said...

Yeah, I would totally like to see the UK show and compare them as well. I don't know if you can access Hulu, but here's the link for the first episode.,vepisode,1,0

I agree, vegetarian and vegan options all over would be awesome, but definitely where our next generation eats every days is a good place to start.

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