Lunch Wars: Speaking Up for the School Food Revolution

Want better food for your kids' schools? Speak up! Amy Kalafa, author of "Lunch Wars," offers encouragement.

| October 2011 Web

Lunch Wars book cover

"Lunch Wars" arms parents with the specific information and tools they need to get unhealthy—even dangerous—food out of their children's school cafeteria and to hold their schools and local and national governments accountable for ensuring that their growing children are served healthy meals at school.

The following is an excerpt from "Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children's Health" by Amy Kalafa (Tarcher/Penguin 2011). The excerpt is from Chapter 2: Get Connected.

A September 2010 study by Russell Research, a national research firm, found that while 45 percent of children buy lunch at school at least some days, 75 percent of parents think that the food offered at school is not very nutritious. Those numbers interest me for several reasons. Seventy- five percent demonstrates that there are a lot of parents who are aware of the need to improve school food. It also suggests that there are many parents who choose to have their children buy lunch even if they believe it’s not healthy. And perhaps many more parents would send in lunch money (or these days put money on account) if they believed the food was nutritious. In marketing parlance, that’s a lot of low- hanging fruit. What would it take to get those parents to become advocates for their kids? Maybe they just need to get connected.

Out of the Closet

Van Jones, author, activist, and former special adviser to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told me, “Everybody has to come to that place in themselves where their own fear or shame about standing out is less important than the damage we’re doing to our children. If you think about a mother lion, you know she’s a pretty peaceful cat most of the time but when somebody is threatening the cubs, that’s a different thing. And what’s happening right now is if somebody ran into a school with a gun we would react very aggressively to try to figure out what we’re going to do. The kind of food that we’re giving our children is going to wind up killing more children than any gunman this year. We’re setting our kids up for diabetes, for lifelong obesity; we’re putting toxins in the food that goes into their bodies. That’s an emergency. And in an emergency you have to respond.”

One of the first and most important things you can do to get a local movement started is to speak out. I spent many years passively observing fast- food culture, without ever considering just getting out there and talking about it. When my kids were little, they’d have friends come over for playdates that often included a meal. Whether we were having stir- fried rice and veggies, or lamb chops with beans, I was often met with “No, thanks, I’m not hungry, do you have any soda?” I soon learned to keep chicken nuggets and bagels in the freezer, as these were the mainstays of my daughters’ friends. Every now and then I would attempt to entice them with a carrot freshly pulled from my garden, but these kids were mostly set in their ways and the thanks I got from one dad was the title of “granolahead.” By the time the kids were in middle school, the overheard carpool conversations often turned to a discussion of which medications each child was taking. “Oh, you’re on Prozac too?!” is not a line of dialog from a cheeky Hollywood movie, it’s an actual sound bite from the back seat of my minivan. So I began speaking up at home, preaching to my kids and their friends (eyes rolling) about the benefits of eating real food. By high school, both of my daughters had several friends who struggled with physical, emotional, and behavioral disorders that required hospitalization. Finally my younger daughter said to me, “So does this mean we’re the normal ones?”

Could I have changed the outcomes of my kids’ friends’ health issues if I’d spoken up sooner? Probably not, but those kids helped me see my own struggles in a different light. Maybe if these kids had been exposed to a greater variety of fresh foods, maybe if they weren’t offered junk food as often, maybe if there had been a bit more emphasis on developing their taste buds, maybe they would have been stronger and more resistant to the challenges of adolescence.

elderberry, echinacea, bee hive


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