Guest blogger: Filmmaker, Amy Kalafa, Two Angry Moms
Amy Kalafa is a mother of two, a documentary filmmaker, certified health coach, organic gardener and a Lecturer in the Yale University Department of Medicine and Psychiatry.
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.
8 thoughts on “Guest blogger: Amy Kalafa, Two Angry Moms”
Congress has the opportunity with Child Nutrition Reauthorization to take a strong stance and speak for the children; not the commercial food industry by banning all sales of foods other than the meal/s of the day.
These foods include all chips, cookies, ice cream, ice pops, candy, soda, flavored milk in super sized containers, granola/ breakfast bars, etc, you name it and believe me it's for sale in your child's school.
I'm in my 40's and when I was a child my parents did not offer dessert with every meal, nor should schools. "eat in moderation" is a joke. That statement differs for everyone; one child may think that only 1 ice cream a day after lunch is moderation while someone like me may say 1 ice cream every two weeks is moderation. Who's right? Neither one of us because opinions differ. Parents are not in school to see what their children are eating, food service workers are too busy working, babysitting, breaking up fights, looking for kids stealing, making sure Jonnie gets his lunch free and Debbie pays reduced priced and so on; they should not be responsible in that aspect to make sure that the kids are following what their parents want for their kids.
Congress needs to step up and ban all a la carte food sales, period. The so called "healthy foods" that states say are ok to sell are still JUNK food in disquise. Adding Fiber, Whole Grains or Evaporated Cane Juice (sugar) instead of High Fructose Corn Syrup to these junk foods does not make them healthy, it only further confuses our OBESE culture into thinking that these products are "good for you".
Schools wil argue that they are making $$$ selling these products which may be so. So now the children are fattening up the districts bottom line and the districts are fattening up the kids…when does it end?
Now is the time for our Elected Officials to stand up for their smallest constituents and focus on feeding children FOOD; good, nutritious and delicios FOOD to our children through Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Suppers and Summer Programs.
"it's the school's job to educate our kids"
Again, this is the problem with "one size fits all". It means everyone gets the same food and is taught the same lessons. But facts and truth are not determined by the popularity contests and mob rule of democracy, nor by proclamations from on high by those with the most guns on their side. Certainly I can choose to feed my kids real food, but that lesson will still be undermined when every single one of their teachers day in and day out endlessly repeat "grains are great, fat will kill you deader than Dillinger".
The only moral and fair approach is to stop dictating from the top down, and "let a thousand flowers bloom".
Excellent point! People only get defensive and paranoid when they know they are not doing the right thing. It is so much nicer to be proud of the work/food you put forth and be able to encourage parents to come by for lunch any day of the week. Food should create community, not hostility!
I also wanted to comment on the "positive peer pressure" statement. You are right on with that. I rely on that concept in my program (www.veggiecation.com) and it works like a charm!
Finally, I just want to thank you for your major part in this movement and the inspiration you have given to me and so many others. Much respect.
This is what I want to see in the future for all children:
Proper meals sat at tables with cutlery, conversation, responsibility and good food. This needs to be our future.
Oh, and the article which accompanied it:
thanks for sharing those links, Laura Martin! very interesting. thanks to the interesting posts from the guest bloggers, too!
Keep up the fight!
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