Here’s the best summary of the debate surrounding the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, now known by this shiny name: “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.” (The Child Nutrition Act was originally up for reauthorization in Sept. 2009 but the deadline was extended.) This is courtesy of the Washington Post blog, All We Can Eat.
This week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack voiced his approval of the above-mentioned Act, which was revealed March 17 to great fanfare—several health organizations and big players in the food industry back it.
But things aren’t as well and good as it would seem. Vilsack had implied, in his Feb. 23 Huffington Post article, that he was on board with the President’s recommendation—of $10 billion extra for the program over the next 10 years.
Unfortunately, in endorsing this version, Vilsack stooped to accept less than half of his original recommendation, or $4.5 billion over the next 10 years.
“Though we believe that additional access and nutrition goals can and should be accomplished by passing a more robust bill that supports the President’s request of $10 billion in additional funding, the bipartisan announcement today is a very positive step forward.”
Vilsack is very much a big-agribusiness insider, and as much as he might be behind his boss’ plans and believe in the fuzzy big-picture goal of helping children, the “big agribusiness” way of thinking brought us to this point. School lunches aren’t funded well enough to purchase commodities other than super-discounted ones, and policy often mandates that excess commodities (no matter their nutritional relevance) be purchased for the program. This benefits massive farming operations and agriculture-related companies—not children.
How can you make a difference?
The Healthy Schools Campaign has done a great job breaking down these issues for the good of the nation’s kids.
Healthy Schools Campaign also has a way to take action, in a form letter here, that you can send to your senator with the push of a button. It urges a “strong” reauthorization of the nutrition act:
“The current proposal by Sen. Blanche Lincoln includes several excellent health-promoting policy elements, but I am concerned with the level of funding included in the bill. The bill allocates only $450 million per year to child nutrition, a mere 45 percent of the funding proposed in Pres. Obama’s budget. This increase barely acknowledges increased food costs without beginning to provide adequate funding for healthier school meals that would truly support children’s health and academic success.
Specifically, I urge you to support a Child Nutrition Act that includes:
* Increased funding for the school meals program, at minimum the $1 billion per year for 10 years that Pres. Obama has proposed.
* Increased quality of meals served in the school meal program; including less use of highly processed foods which are high in fat and sodium, increased fresh and high quality frozen fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, and reduced overall sodium content.”
A documentary on school lunch (called “Lunch”) in America premieres this week (March 22) at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC. Here’s an excerpt from its website:
In Lunch, a revealing documentary short, director Avis Richards investigates the causes and the consequences of “growing up in a junk-food culture.” Through numerous on-site interviews with food workers, doctors, educators, and students, Lunch provides a candid, penetrating, and disturbing account of the National School Lunch’s Program’s failure to promote the proper dietary habits to ensure our youth’s physical, social, and psychological well-being. The documentary also explores viable alternatives to the hamburger hegemony, talking with farmers and other community leaders about their efforts to put locally-grown, whole foods back on the menu and make diet and nutrition a core part of every school’s educational model.
Here’s another reminder about how bad these lunches can be: The NY Times reported on fast food beef: how it’s treated with ammonia and how bad it can be for us. Here’s a fun-but-sad story about how a mom kept a Happy Meal on a shelf for a year and it didn’t decompose at all. Talk about preservatives! Why am I talking about fast food? Because USA Today reported on how school lunch standards can be lesser than the standards for fast food.
I don’t think the decision-makers (adults in their 40s-70s) realize the extent to which we’re shafting the next generation, particularly those from lower-income families. Tom Friedman of the New York Times often opines there’s a lot of talent—genius, really—in the lower-income “brackets” that our country wastes—because we don’t give them a fighting chance. I’m sure teachers like Mrs. Q realize this all too well. How many potentially nation-altering future engineers or authors don’t do well in school because of their nutrition and lack of recess?
Brandon Smith wrote for daily newspapers in Ohio before his current gig as a Science Journalism student at Columbia College Chicago. A bio is available at brandonsmith.com/about and he tweets at twitter.com/greenletters.NOTE: all guest bloggers have contacted me of their own free will, have given consent, do not know me personally, and are not receiving compensation.