There’s an irony about the clandestine nature of Mrs. Q’s blog. Why are photos of school lunch in America so forbidden that those who publish them must remain anonymous?
When I set out to make a film about the topic of school food, I wanted to know what I could do as a parent, to help make it better. My requests for permission to film in school cafeterias were met with paranoia and bureaucratic rhetoric from most schools, which gave me reason to believe they had something to hide.
The good news is that I was able to find schools that were proud enough of their meal programs to let me in and film them. The resulting movie, Two Angry Moms, does indeed expose the horrors of school food and explains how it got to be so bad. The film also shows the impact highly processed, nutrient deficient food has on kids. Most of the film, however, focuses on what parents around the country are doing to improve school food.
I learned that the movement for better food in schools has been going on since it got so bad in the 1970’s. The moms and dads, chefs and teachers I met, who were fighting for the health of America’s kids, inspired me. The model programs I documented began to reveal a pattern in the steps these communities had taken.
Parents got organized, they took on different roles in the movement, they created surveys, they used the media, they rewrote School Wellness Policies and contracts, they worked with teachers, staff and students to introduce them to new, fresh, healthier whole foods.
Almost every school that eventually changed the cafeteria fare started with an edible school garden – a concept most recently pioneered by Chef Alice Waters of Berkeley, California fame. I filmed her famous Edible Schoolyard and other less legendary but equally successful efforts. These scenes – of kids gardening, cooking, tasting and enjoying beautiful fresh foods convinced me that participation is the key.
As I travel around the country showing the film, I am often told that it’s the parents who are responsible for the way kids eat today. I don’t disagree. Yet, it’s the school’s job to educate our kids, not go along with harming them because that’s what their parents may inadvertently do. We don’t allow teachers to smoke in school, even if they may do so in their own homes around their own kids! Instead, we educate the children and model healthy behaviors in hopes that they will take those behaviors home and influence the whole family.
Administrators, dieticians and food service directors will say that when they try to get kids to eat better choices, the food sales go down. Yet the districts that have made better food a priority by eliminating unhealthy choices in favor of real, fresh, whole foods consistently report that sales go back up after a while. In my own experience, peer pressure works in positive as well as negative ways. I’ve seen kids eat zucchini and broccoli on a dare, then realize that, “it’s not bad!”
I want to encourage all of you who follow Mrs. Q’s exposé to turn those feelings of revulsion when you see the food porn photos into action. You can host a screening of Two Angry Moms in your own school district – at home, at your local library, or in the school cafeteria! Hosting a screening is a great way to form a local network, to organize in your district and to plan a series of actions that will help turn your school’s food environment from shameful to sustainable. Visit www.angrymoms.org to learn more.
We also have a dedicated social network to help you find and communicate with other “angry moms” (and dads) in your area and around the world. You can join for free and create your own local discussion group if you don’t already find one on the site. Visit www.angrymoms.groupsite.com and you’ll find discussions on school gardens and national legislative efforts as well.
I had the honor of speaking with Mrs. Q by phone the other day. She admitted to being a bit overwhelmed and stressed by all the attention her blog has received. I hope when she’s ready, Mrs. Q will become a leader of the movement for better school food in her district and in America. I told her about my friend, Jackie Schneider, a teacher who did the same thing in England. Jackie almost lost her job when she was found out, but the British media made Jackie a local hero and ultimately saved her job and launched her national platform. Jackie now has a blog http://jackiesschoolfoodblog.blogspot.com/ and her parents’ group has a website http://www.mertonparents.co.uk that still shows pictures of the school food – only now you can see how far they’ve come!
We still have a very long way to go in our country. We need more scientific studies, and law suits and legislation, but most of all we need parents and teachers like Mrs. Q to keep on speaking up for the health of America’s kids.