The 2012 Farm Bill


I’ve been following the happenings with the 2012 Farm Bill reauthorization, but I haven’t paid enough attention to make sense of it all. Just like so many things in politics, there is so much noise that it’s tough to know who to believe. Somehow I was subscribed to industry-wide emails related to fresh produce (as in fruit and veggies) as well as the soy lobby. Those are different perspectives, too.

One person I do trust is Marion Nestle and I read her blog: Food Politics. She recently blogged about the farm bill (Some comments on the progress of the farm bill) and the statistics she listed off gave me pause. Here’s what the proposed bill would fund:

  • $150 million annually for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program
  • $50 million per year for the Defense Department Fresh program, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables to schools and service institutions
  • $70 million annually for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
  • $25 million annually for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, to go to $50 million by 2017
  • $60 million in 2013 up to $65 million 2017 for pest and disease management programs
  • $200 million annually for The Market Access Program and $9 million for the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program
  • $100 million over 5 years for the Hunger-Free Communities Grant Program for fruit and vegetable SNAP incentives
  • $100 million over 5 years for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
  • $406 million annually for Section 32 specialty crop purchases
  • $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative

Dr. Nestle goes on to state, “The farm bill currently costs taxpayers $85 billion a year, with $72 billion of that going for SNAP (food stamp) benefits.” Jaw-dropping numbers. I knew that the Farm Bill included SNAP funding, but I had no idea that it was that large. It’s upsetting that so many people need food assistance to survive.

What I would like to see in the Farm Bill is not handouts to corporations, but help for real farmers. When I read some of the statistics about farmers in this country (e.g. The average age of a farmer in the US is 57), I think that we need to be giving money directly to farmers — not to the higher ups at mega farming corporations. We also need more people to chose farming as a career.

What are your thoughts?

CSA 2012: Week 4 – Finally Kale

Kale — it doesn’t look like much

 I was elated when the kale arrived. Finally. Ever since I discovered kale chips, my family has been enthusiastic about kale. When they come out of the oven, it looks like what baked lettuce would look like. Even though they look unappetizing you have to trust me. They are quite tasty and addictive. (Resource: Kale Chips)


Admittedly, I’m at a loss as to what to do with some of the greens including the chard. I really think that a family needs a “go-to” recipe for every green to feel comfortable with preparing them.


Thankfully spinach is not one of the greens I struggle with.

Yummy salad greens

What I do is just put out a plate of raw, chopped salad greens at every meal. I’m not really a “salad” person — I have to force myself, but what I’m teaching my son is that greens are part of the meal. By having raw greens on the table first, he learns that he can just grab them and eat a handful before the main meal is served. In fact, my husband is really focused on eating right (remember how he was the one who said that the CSA was a “sign” we needed to eat healthier?). He will start with the salad. The other night my son watched my husband eating and Charlie yelled out, “Dad, stop shoving your face!”


Which brings me back to a main point: when subscribing to a CSA, ideally you have all members of the family on board. My husband fully supports the addition of way more lettuce than normal. I’m grateful and really lucky.

Tomato Mountain CSA: Kale, Rainbow chard, Spinach, Vitamin Green & Lettuce, Hakurei turnips

Scottish student advocates for better school food, plus updates

Image courtesy: Never Seconds

A 9 year old student from Scotland is photographing her school lunch every day and sharing it with the world. Her blog is called Never Seconds and much like I did in 2010, she takes a picture of her lunch and blogs about it. She calls herself “Veg” and she only started less than a month ago and her blog has already gone viral. I don’t know what prompted her to go forward with a school lunch blog because she doesn’t explain her inspiration.

I applaud children taking an active role in school lunch reform. At one of my schools, one classroom did a research project on cafeteria waste. Every day for a week they weighed trays prior to being tossed in the trash. The students found that more than 700 lbs of food was being thrown into the garbage each week. The students noticed that much of the waste was meat and the term “pink slime” was brought up. I was not involved in the project, but the teacher may have been inspired by my book. After the students finished their analysis of the food waste, they made posters and put them around the school encouraging other students to be aware of cafeteria behavior. Finally, the students ended up deciding to launch a petition to get other students involved in advocating for better food at school.

I’m impressed when students turn into advocates — they are the best advocates for themselves, especially when adults forget that the students are the first priority. The Scottish “Veg” student has already made in-roads into changing school food at her school. Putting pictures online is a great catalyst for change. Ahem.

My students are lucky — they got (two!) salad bars a couple months ago. The school has two cafeterias that operate simultaneously to feed almost 1,000 students hence the need for two salad bars. I haven’t been able to snap a picture of them because with my schedule there just isn’t one free moment. However, I explained to some students that the salad bars are the result of advocacy for fresh food. The students have the option for mini-salads every day. It will take time for some students to adjust, but the teachers seem to enjoy the lettuce and tomatoes! The salads look terrific — again sorry no pictures. I don’t carry my phone around with me!

One of my goals when I started on this journey was to see a salad bar at my school and when I did, I just couldn’t believe it. I like to think that maybe, just maybe, what I did for a full year was a teeny part of why that happened. I wish “Veg” luck in her school food journey!

Where do “functional skills” fit in?

Cupcakes must be the right height or you are a failure! (image source)

Remember “HomeEc”? Wasn’t it great? I don’t remember which year it was, but I took a home economics class. Over a semester we cooked and we sewed. I loved the hands-on aspect of the experience. It felt very different from the rest of my classes. Then in ninth grade I took “Typing” at the insistence of my grandmother. She figured that if everything else failed at least I could be a secretary. Knowing how to type? Priceless. And that was the end of my formal instruction in basic, functional living skills.

A good friend/coworker and I often lament the fact that many kids graduate high school with a limited skill set. The curriculum is geared towards the college-bound (and so is much of the testing!). But what about the kids who aren’t going to college? What about the kids that don’t have the grades or the test-taking prowess to get into college? Or the students who don’t have the money to attend more school? I’m concerned they graduate without the key skills they need to move ahead in life and into productive employment.

Coming from a special education perspective, functional skills sometimes matter more than academic ones for many students. Although I don’t have any experience working in special schools set up for individuals with cognitive disabilities, many of my speech path friends do work in those settings (and love it). They tell me that these schools focus on daily living skills, interpersonal skills, and other occupational skills. For example, one of my friends observed students learning how to write checks. I researched some other examples of things that many of those students learn at school:

  • How to count money, how to budget, make purchases, and perform banking tasks.
  • Learn about the community and living arrangements, use of basic appliances, and setting up a living space.
  • Appropriate dress and grooming, personal safety, basic first aid, and maintaining physical fitness.
  • Planning balanced meals, purchasing food, preparing meals, and cleaning up and food storage.
  • Demonstrating appropriate responses to emotion and demonstrate giving praise and criticism.
  • Identify how personal behavior affects others and demonstrate respect for others and property.
  • Set personal goals, learn how to organize, and how to use effective communication.
  • Figuring out occupational interests and personal strengths and weaknesses, and making realistic job choices.
  • Responding to authority and supervision and working cooperatively with others.

So while I was sitting in Geometry class and hating every second (I love algebra, but geometry just did nothing for me), other students were learning how to write checks!? Is it assumed that I would have known all of those things because I am not cognitively disabled? Or is it assumed that my family took over that kind of instruction? I’m betting on the latter: my family would be teaching me those basic skills and that I wouldn’t need additional reinforcement of that information. My family did teach me a lot of things. Everything else I just learned informally and “by doing.”

But is it the school’s job to teach all students that kind of stuff? I think there is a benefit to the instruction of that kind of material, but it has to be in a way that engages. What I like about so much of the special education curriculum is that it is community-based. Those programs get kids out in the community interacting with community members from cashiers to policemen. Everything is focused on “This is how you do this…”

At one of my previous schools, the autism classroom went on a field trip to learn how to make pizzas at a pizza restaurant. I loved the idea of students learning that pizza isn’t something that comes out of a box that is delivered to your house by a friendly delivery guy. Then I thought, “Well, wouldn’t all kids benefit from a field trip like that??” I have encountered regular education students who don’t know how to make cupcakes from a box so I think there is a need. Many principals think that a pizza making field trip is not academically-focused enough for regular education kiddos. Trips to any science-related museum are much preferred and easily approved by administration. I don’t want to discount the museum experience (because museums are amazing), but I do believe there is value in non-traditional field trips. And the pizza field trip doesn’t even have to be full-day and could be walkable!

I’m lucky. I had parents who loved me and taught me the basics about life. But so many of those things I’m not near mastery. For example, I don’t budget well and I still struggle with dreaded weekly meal planning. I really could use a refresher course.


Food Revolution Day — May 19th

Image: Source

Food Revolution Day!

It’s time we start questioning what we put into our mouths and what our children are eating. In that spirit, Jamie Oliver has named today, May 19th, as Food Revolution Day. There has never been a more critical time for humans to reevaluate our food choices and to think about our place on the food chain. I believe our food system is broken. Why? Because it revolves around fake food. Unhealthy food (and drink) is robbing us by shortening our life spans, increasing health care costs, and making fast food mega-corporations richer than ever.

It’s preaching to the choir to blog about this with you guys. We already know the importance of educating ourselves about real food, learning how to cook, learning what  “fresh” and “seasonal” really mean, and involving our kids in family discussions about food around the dinner table. If there are any non-believers out there, I suggest you check out the infographic put out by the Food Revolution: Bring Food Education Back. I truly believe that food reform is the way to save our planet, our health, and our lives.

CSA 2012: Week 3 — One Tired Salad Spinner

More spinach!

The early part of the season is a bit tedious with all the greens. There, I said it. I’m hoping to raise a lettuce lover in my son by starting early, but I have to confess that I have to work to like eating lettuce — even this high quality organic lettuce. I blame it on my parents.

Just kidding — my mom is the one who gave us our salad spinner. All is forgiven! Seriously, my mom did really great with the healthy foods, but I just didn’t like lots of lettuce. Did I ever mention that I didn’t like tomatoes until I was 25? I still am not a huge fan, but I had an epiphany at 25 when I was out to eat with my friends (that was in my previous life when I worked for corporate America and went out to eat a lot). My friends and I frequented the cutest little Italian deli and it was there that I realized if I turned down the tomato on my sandwich, then lunch often was devoid of a veggie. I started allowing tomatoes on my sandwiches and realized that I couldn’t even taste them (not sure what kind of tomatoes they were…) and that’s how I got closer to 5 fruits and veggies per day back then.

Could it look any prettier?

Our salad spinner is not a full-size salad spinner, but a smaller one, which spins the perfect amount of greens for the three of us. It’s been getting a lot of use. Basically, it just sits out on our counter constantly. I’m not very tidy so that’s really why, but it sure makes it convenient when I come home with my son. He’s been really pounding the salad spinner when he helps me make dinner — what a great job for a three-year-old. Sadly, the salad spinner has already lost its novelty so I’m on my own now.

What to do with this?

How in the world do I prepare this green (pictured above)?? Help.


My mom came to visit and prepared the chard above by sauteeing it with garlic and onions. It was good. She claimed it was her first time eating chard, which I strongly doubt because she probably just doesn’t remember it.


My mom further claimed that it was her first time eating a turnip — I believe that. Again I roasted them and they were great. You guys suggested just eating them raw, but I didn’t want to try them raw. Call me unadventurous. Raw can be intimidating.

The weather is *slowly* turning warmer. I cannot wait for some nicer weather — and then come the farmer’s markets! Yippee!

Tomato Mountain CSA included lettuce, spinach, Red Russian Kale, Hakurei turnips, Rainbow chard, and bok choi


Guest blog: French Kids School Lunch Project

There is no kids’ food in French school lunches. Don’t believe me? I’m not surprised—given what most people believe to be the average school lunch that our kids eat.

French kids eat very differently at lunch: tasty, healthy, scratch-cooked, three or four course meals every day. And they do this for an average of $3 per meal (not much more than the average price of meals in the US National School Lunch Program). Low-income families have subsidized prices (the lowest price in Paris is 20 cents per meal) and every child—no matter what their income—sits down to the same meal with their peers every day.

I blog every week about these amazing school lunch menus at my French Kids School Lunch Project. While the French serve things most of our kids would recognize (lasagna, for example), they also have kids eating everything from beet salad to endive, lentils to lettuce, and even roast guinea fowl and stinky blue cheese. And that’s what the preschoolers get.

I started this blog while writing my book, French Kids Eat Everything, which is about the French Food Rules parents use to teach their kids to be healthy eaters. We learned these rules in France, but when we moved back to North America I realized that schools and parents need to work together to teach children to eat well—and that this sadly doesn’t always happen here. The book is a very personal story about how our family transformed our eating habits, but I realized I couldn’t stop there: school lunch reform is something vital for all of our children. Hence the French Kids School Lunch Project was born.

Why are these menus so good? Because the French believe that learning doesn’t stop in the lunchroom. In the ‘school restaurant’ (the name says it all, doesn’t it?) they actively teach kids to like and eat a wide variety of food. This is backed up by lessons in the classroom (and, of course, by the French Food Rules that parents teach their kids at home). The French are so dedicated to this that they don’t repeat the same dish more than once every month in any given school. Just think about what your kids’ lunches were like if that rule were in place.

Of course, these comments on the French approach to lunches are a series of generalizations. There are great school lunch programs here at home, and the French system is not perfect (as I explore on my blog). Nonetheless, reading the French school lunch menus is an eye-opener about what kids can eat.

Perhaps most astonishing of all: there is no kids’ food here. No flavoured milk (the kids drink water). Ketchup only once per week (and only with dishes with which ketchup is traditionally served, like steak). There is little or no fried food (which can only be served a few times per month, according to Ministry of Education regulations). Vegetables are about half of the overall meal (the starter is always a vegetable, and the main dish always has a vegetable side dish). There is also no choice on the menu (for primary school kids), and only one choice for highschool kids, minimizing ‘plate waste’, which is often an important hidden cost in our school lunches.

Now, I’m not necessarily recommending the wholesale adoption of the French approach. The question is: what can we learn from them? I believe that some elements of the French approach (like their well thought-out approach to ‘taste training’ for kids) could definitely work here. So my hope is that the French Kids School Lunch Project will spark a conversation about what children can eat, and how we can do better at educating them to eat a large variety of foods.

Plate with bib

Underlying this blog is my belief that healthy food is a right, and that eating well is for everyone–not just for elites or foodies. I also believe that food insecurity and unhealthy eating habits are two expressions of food and education systems that need fixing, so I blog about food politics, and about the amazing people and organizations working for better food in North America. These continue to inspire me…and hopefully you too!

Carrot Salad

In closing, here’s a lovely quote from the website of the school restaurant in Versailles: “Mealtime is a particularly important moment in a child’s day. Our responsibility is to provide children with healthy, balanced meals; to develop their sense of taste; to help children, complementing what they learn at home, to make good food choices without being influenced by trends, media, and marketing; and to teach them the relationship between eating habits and health. But above all else, we aim to enable children to spend joyful, convivial moments together, to learn a ‘savoir-vivre’, to make time for communication, social exchange, and learning about society’s rules–so that they can socialize and cultivate friendships.”

Bon Appétit!

Karen Le Billon was born in Montreal (Canada), and has divided her time between Vancouver and France for the past two decades. A Rhodes Scholar, Karen holds a PhD from Oxford University, and is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Canada Research Chair and Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 award. Fluently bilingual, she has studied and taught at universities in both France and North America. She is currently a Professor at the University of British Columbia. Her latest book is French Kids Eat Everything

Karen blogs on France, food, and parenting at, where she runs the ‘French Kids School Lunch Project’, a Tour de France of school lunches in France aimed at inspiring school lunch reform in North America. As a result of her work, she has been selected as one of the Jamie Oliver US Foundation’s Real Food Advocates. Karen’s first guest blog post on Fed Up With Lunch appeared last month.

Guest post: The NO Squad

Mrs Q here: I’m running late with my CSA post because my son is sick. Instead I’d like to share a guest blog I found very interesting and inspiring.

The NO Squad – It Really Does Take A Village

By Dr. Jane Pentz

Who are these people wearing “No” t-shirts and handing out bookmarks?

Onlookers have tried to guess the meaning of NO, but no one has even come close to the true meaning. We’ve had responses from no smoking, no taxes, and even New Orleans.  But NO has a far different meaning and the t-shirts are aimed at sending a powerful message.

NO is the title of our young adult novel that deals with the timeliest of issues – increased rates of obesity in children who eat school lunches.

Doug Dwyer and I, the authors of NO, met in a retirement community of not-so retired individuals several years ago. We have backgrounds in fitness, nutrition and education and we share a deep rooted passion for informing parents, educators and anyone who will listen about the alarming status of our nation’s school lunch program.

I entered the nutrition field many years ago for personal reasons.  My oldest daughter, now a grandmother, was very sensitive to food allergies and I went back to school to educate myself.  I received my PH.D fromTuftsUniversityand created my own continuing education company.  I taught thousands of adults across the country – parents, educators, health professionals and coaches made up the majority of my classes.  They would inevitably bring up the topic of school lunches.  My co-author, Doug Dwyer, is a career educator who has worked as both a teacher and administrator and he shares my passion for working to bring about change in school lunches. Doug also has a daughter with food allergies and he and his wife have worked for years helping her.

We discussed possible solutions with friends, family and again anyone who would listen.  What if teenagers everywhere put their brains together to organize their own revolution? Imagine if kids across the nation all stood up at once and just said “NO” to unhealthy school lunches and vending machine snack food? They might just have the power to improve the quality of school lunches.

Thus began the birth of our first novel – NO: Book 1 of Eighth Day Series. It all starts on a normal Friday atBlalockMiddle SchoolinTennessee. When the bell rings for lunch, the entire eighth grade class comes together in a one-word protest of the food that is about to be served to them in the cafeteria. And that one word, emblazoned on white paper that each student holds up, is a simple and bold “NO”. We soon find out that this same plan has been launched in middle schools across the country. As the story unfolds four seventh and eighth grade teens join forces with 8th Day, an underground group of professors, students, and health professionals committed to exposing the corporate greed and government deception that is resulting in the high-fat, high-sugar diets that are leading them and their classmates on a sure road to life-shortening diseases like diabetes.

These 4 kids living in different parts of the country combine their talents toward a nationwide boycott, quickly transforming themselves into trained “agents” on a mission to save kids who eat school lunches. Can the kids overcome food foes who are more interested in lining their pockets than promoting health?

No was published on March 15th (Also available on Amazon).  We were pleased to learn that adults are also enjoying this fast-paced, fact-packed, and empowering book.

Our first outing with NO t-shirts came several days later and was so tremendously successful in getting the message out that we enlisted others to join us – and so began the NO Squad.  The NO Squad can be seen travelling throughout parts of FL and their goal is to spread the message throughout the country.

You can join our effort by purchasing a copy of NO and a NO t-shirt at  We will send you six bookmarks with the purchase of every NO Book and/or NO t-shirt.  Simply put that you heard about us (in the comments section) through Mrs. Q’s blog.

You can also help our effort by joining our discussion group (Children’s Nutrition and Fitness Advocates) on LinkedIn.  Send me an email at pentzj(AT)comcast(DOT)net and I will send you an invitation to join the group.

You can also help us by letting us know of children’s organizations, local books stores, school libraries or public libraries in your area that might be interested in having NO on their book shelves.

Jane Pentz and Doug Dwyer