Hmmm, the bees or the beef? About which should I write this morning? How about both?
Haagen-Daz (the ice cream folks) just announced that bees are responsible for pollinating the flowers that create fruits for 40% of their 60 flavors--including consumer-favorites strawberry, toasted pecan and banana split. Apparently, Haagen-Daz is introducing a new flavor, Vanilla Honey Bee, this spring in order to raise awareness for the honeybee issue and will donate part of the profits of the sale of that flavor to help the bees. How, who knows? (I also hear that bats are dying, by the way, but that's a post for another day.) And, by the way, I've seen "cute" headlines like "If Ice Cream Prices Rise, Blame the Bees." Are we ready to stop blaming the bees and start truly changing what's clearly not working?
Now, let's touch base on the beef issue this morning, and the fact that we're in the midst of the largest beef recall in U.S. history, with the majority of the beef having been distributed to our nation's schools.
Can good come from this? Yes! Finally, the lights are starting to go on and parents are starting to say, "What's up with that?"
As longtime readers of FoodShed Planet know, I've been working on the school lunch issue for awhile now. Here's the article I wrote for Georgia Organics (click on Fall 2007: Farm Fresh Produce Goes to the Head of the Class), and I also spoke at a state-wide school lunch conference back in the fall. My local elementary school is finally, finally, trying to do something about improving the lunches, and I sent a version of the following points to the new wellness committee chairpeople as a "transfer of knowledge" for moving forward since our county has a new nutrition director and does not know what bases we had already covered. I'm hearing from parents at other schools as well and thought this information may be helpful to anyone who wants some suggestions for questions to ask their county's school nutrition director:
1. Milk. Something like 75% of African Americans and 90% of Asians are lactose intolerant. More and more children are experiencing milk-related allergies. Additionally, many parents do not want their children drinking hormone-laden industrial milk. Ask your county for a daily soy milk option, made from organic soybeans (almost all non-organic soybeans are genetically modified). Additionally, request an organic milk option (both of these changes may require an additional cost). And I, for one, do not consider Horizon (and any other "organic" milk supplied by Aurora) an acceptable organic option. It is currently under investigation for not meeting organic standards. Aurora/Horizon--you are going to have to earn our trust back, and ads with happy cows don't do it. We're not stupid.
2. Juice. A "juice drink" option is often offered because its added calcium supposedly makes it nutritionally comparable to milk and fulfills that federal requirement. However, I was told by the county that this decision was made before 100% juice with added calcium was available as a product choice. I was told that in order to switch to the 100% juice option, individual schools simply needed to request it. Ask your county for 100% fruit juice. A high fructose corn syrup-laden juice drink is not an acceptable option for our children. And, as one parent so innocently asked at a recent meeting, "Why do the kids have to get calcium from orange juice anyway?" That's the kind of thinking that will truly make a difference. Ever hear of yogurt? Cottage cheese? Collards, broccoli, kale? And let's stop saying kids won't eat that stuff. They do, if they have grown up with it.
3. Fresh Fruits and Veggies. My National School Lunch Program (NSLP) research indicates that farm-fresh food procured through the Department of Defense's Procurement Buying Office qualifies for federal reimbursement if it meets certain criteria. Not only that, but a provision within the NSLP requires schools to buy local and buy fresh, when available. It IS available. We can and should know exactly what fruits and vegetables are procured locally or regionally. Questions: Is your county procuring any food locally? Does the county have a relationship with your regional DOD PBO buyer? If not, you can forge that relationship.
4. Water. Must we really fight for the availability of water for our children at lunch? My younger daughter is not allowed to get up and fill her water bottle during lunch. Or, if she is really allowed to do this, she believes she's not allowed because the administration has put so much fear into the children about talking, moving, breathing or otherwise disrupting their overcrowded school.
4. Real Change. Schools that are truly improving their school lunch programs are working outside the parameters of the NSLP. Let's face it--the program is a dumping ground for the lowest quality meat in our country, and if you think the beef thing that happened in the last couple weeks is an exception, you are mistaken. What's more, the vegetables are grown with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and shipped cross-country. The grains are loaded with GMOs. Everything is processed. But the county cannot change that alone--it requires activism on the federal level and changes in the Farm Bill to make a difference on our nation's children's lunchtime plates. See www.angrymoms.org. We are not alone.
Innovative school lunch programs include three important components: organic farm-to-school food availability, school gardens (required in every single California public school, as stated in California Assembly Bill 1535), and nutrition education. Ask the county what is available through its office in these three areas, and what the county would be willing to add to its office's efforts through designation of select schools as a pilot program for your county in a truly comprehensive and real school lunch improvement program. The next questions, then, become what are the parents willing to pay for out-of-pocket? And what is the PTA willing to fund?
Do I dare even suggest that we make some sort of attempt to make mealtime pleasant for our children and teach them how to honor their food, rather than bogging them down with cafeteria rules?
My number one recommendation is zero tolerance for things that don't make sense and that are compromises regarding our children's health. If we as moms don't say, "Enough," then no one will.