Why I Dropped Out of the School Food Reform Movement and What We Need to Do Now

I was assigned to lunch duty to fill in for someone a few weeks ago. I didn’t know exactly what to expect. There was no training.

The lunch room was loud and full of kids moving and yelling and jumping. That’s what I normally hear and see when I walk by the cafeteria to get my lunch. But this time I got glimpses of the food.There was french bread pizza with whole apples for hot lunch. Kids scraped the cheese off and gobbled it down. Then they raked the soggy bread with their sporks.

Packed lunches contained some sandwiches and the occasional piece of fruit, but mostly it was packages of cookies, boxes of juice, and crinkly bags of chips.

Rounding up, I’d say in the entire lunchroom a total of three kids ate optimal nutrition for learning.

***

I avoid the school lunch and the cafeteria these days. Since resigning my post with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) eighteen months ago and moving to the burbs, I’ve worked at two different school districts. The school where I was last year had a salad bar and much of the food was made onsite, even though it was managed by a company. Where I’m at now there is no salad bar. The setup is similar to what I witnessed and experienced in CPS: prepackaged food heated up.

I’m not ready to launch another campaign to expose the problems with school lunch. It’s untenable for me to attack my employer. I mean, it’s stupid and risky when my family depends on my earnings. If I worked somewhere else, I could do something without putting myself in jeopardy.

When my son starts kindergarten next year, I’ll have a player in the game. Until then, I’m going to stand in the back and watch from the sidelines.

***

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School food reform will fail if children’s food environments don’t change radically. From a child’s point of view, it’s impossible for most healthy school cafeteria offerings to compete with other kids’ crappy bagged lunches. Here’s how we make change for all:

1) Competitive Foods OUT — Kids should be unable to buy packaged cookies and snacks in their school cafeterias. Thankfully, that’s not an option where I’m at.

2) Nutrition Education, at Home and at School — At school kids get virtually no education about food. It’s going to have to change if we want to reverse the childhood obesity trend. At home parents like us need to keep offering healthy foods, even if they are rejected over and over.

3) Overcome Biases — I dislike tomatoes and because of that I don’t offer them to my children as much as I should. Recently I was eating a pasta dish that had stewed tomatoes in it. I kept offering the meat and the pasta to my 13 month old son, but I didn’t think to give him a tomato. He reached over and plucked tomato after tomato out of my bowl and put them right in his mouth.

4) Fight Advertising Aimed at Kids — My five-year-old wants everything he sees in TV commercials. The ads are easily digestible for little minds who don’t know that they are being sold to. In addition to telling him “no” to things that are inappropriate and that we can’t afford, I explain each commercial to him, e.g. “They’re selling cars,” and “They are selling phones.” I know that advertising to kids is banned in other countries. I would like to know of any organizations you are aware of that fight advertising to kids. Please comment — I can’t find even one with a simple Google search!

5) Buy the Best You Can Afford — Continue to buy the best food that you can with the money you have. I know it’s hard, but don’t settle for crap.

6) Avoid Eating in Your Car — One fifth of all meals are consumed in cars. If possible, please don’t go through a drive-thru one less time per week. It will make a difference in your family’s food culture.

7) Salad Bars in Schools — Probably the most important in this list. Most kids aren’t getting exposed to vegetables at home. A salad bar is a fantastic way to help kids learn in a non-threatening way.

My new website is up and running, but I’m not ready to send you guys there just yet. I’ll be notifying you in a separate post. Thanks for your patience — it’s really worth waiting for!

The Search for Meaningful Work, Post “Mrs Q” – Advice please

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My life has rolled on since I ate a year of school lunch and blogged it, published a book and appeared on TV. I’m grateful it has, because I don’t like getting a lot of attention. And while the cause of school food reform is a valiant one, I have blogged less and less as the years have passed. I even ditched my smart phone in January of this year. I needed a break and I highly recommend it if you feel like you have lost your ability to focus.

My absence in the school food reform movement, and in the larger food reform sphere, is not due to a lack of interest on my part. I had baby number two and there’s nothing like an infant to reorganize your life and prioritize everything else. But mostly I am trying to stay employed. While some considered me as “famous” because of this blog, I feel more “notorious.” I have not been able to shake that feeling of shame that came along with doing the whole thing anonymously. It was like a big scary secret for 18 months and even though I felt a ton of relief when I came out, I am left with some toxic emotions even now. Secrets aren’t healthy for people. I probably need therapy.

But I’m still proud of myself in quiet moments of reflection. I did something that mattered a great deal to me and to students I continue to worry about. I want to own what I did and be bold, but doing that does not seem to translate into professional opportunities. I work with similar kids now, but I do avoid the lunchroom. It’s school food PTSD.

What to do with myself professionally now? That is the question that only I can resolve, but I have not been successful in my search for an answer. Of course, I am working as I have been trained: a school-based speech pathologist. I love my job, the kids, and schools. But there is something missing and I’m trying to figure out what that is. I expect this to take some time to sort through, maybe years.

I’m throwing this one out to you, my readers. You have seen me through all these years. What now? Hypothetically if you were me, what would you do next professionally?

Two Years Ago Today Mrs Q Revealed + A Giveaway!

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That was two years ago today. Just looking at that picture makes me nervous! Long time readers remember how crazy paranoid I was. Everything turned out *pretty much* fine.

In celebration of the two year anniversary of my book being published, I’m offering a giveaway:

First and foremost, you will win a signed copy of my book!

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1. Fed Up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth about School Lunches — and How We Can Change Them!  And I will personalize it for you.

Second, I’m including the following books off my shelf:

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2. Recipes Every Man Should Know

3. Yoga Pretzels

4. Cake Doctor Bakes Gluten Free

5. Easy Cut-up Cakes for Kids

6. Kids Cook 1-2-3

7. Cornelia Guest’s Simple Pleasures

8. How to Grill

9. Knives Cooks Love

To enter, please leave a comment on this post. I’ll close the entry period on October 13th and randomly chose a number to win.

Guest Blog: Foer’s Virtual Visits

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We at Farm Forward are big fans of Fed Up With Lunch and the invaluable resources it provides parents and food advocates who want to reform school lunches and improve children’s health.

We wanted to share with you a great opportunity for educators to bring critically acclaimed author Jonathan Safran Foer into your classrooms to discuss the issues raised in his international bestseller Eating Animals.

Last year, we held our first series of “Virtual Classroom Visits,” where Foer met with more than 2,100 high school and college students. In all, 70 college and high school classes across 20 states and 3 countries participated. The response from teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive.

Thursday, October 10, Foer will once again visit classrooms around the world through eight webinar sessions, provided free of charge by Farm Forward. During these virtual visits, Foer will lead discussions with students on pressing problems in today’s food industry, including such issues as animal welfare, environmental degradation, avian influenza, the plight of farmers, and more.

If you are an educator who would like your class to participate in a Virtual Classroom Visit with Jonathan Safran Foer on October 10, click here to sign up. We hope we hear from you!

About Farm Forward: Farm Forward is a nonprofit advocacy and consulting group implementing innovative strategies to promote conscientious food choices, reduce farm animal suffering, and advance sustainable agriculture. Learn how to get involved here: http://www.farmforward.com.

Being reflective

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I’m approaching my 36th birthday. I really thought I’d have figured it all out by now. I still don’t feel like I’ve grown up most of the time, but I have to behave like one.

The last time I felt a cosmic shift in my life was when I was 23. At the time I felt self-acceptance for the first time. In particular, I remember liking my body and appreciating it. There was a happiness in that shift.

Having little Daniel join the family has softened me. I don’t think anyone can come away from parenting without having their world view jostled quite a bit. It turns out that having kiddo number two has made me even more relaxed about things. My favorite thing to do with them is just lay on the carpet in the living room, playing Legos with Charlie and wrestling Daniel as he crawls all over me.

Every day I have an idea for a blog post. That’s probably surprising considering I haven’t posted in a couple months. The thing is that most of my thoughts don’t apply to the original mission of this blog. Blog posts get written in my brain while driving to work, doing dishes at the sink, taking my dog out… but they don’t get written or posted here or anywhere.

I’m going to publish on a different blog. I’ve already purchased a couple different domains and I’ve been toying with some new ideas. I don’t want to commit until I’m sure that I will be able to move forward. That’s why there has been some quiet time here on Fed Up With Lunch. And… I’ve started packing lunch for Charlie this year again. I was able to take 15 months off of lunch packing and it was a much needed respite. I’ve taken some pictures of his lunches and I’m thinking about putting those shots online somewhere. But not here. Putting his lunches here always made me feel uncomfortable.

Watch me jump. It will happen this year.

Ten book giveaway and sign up for my semi-rare newsletter!

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This past weekend My husband and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary. I really can believe that we have been married for this long. It feels right and normal so there’s no shock at the passage of this milestone.

What I want is more time with my husband and our kids as well as with our family and friends. Life is so fleeting and I don’t feel like I’m getting enough of their physical presence.

I’m trimming my life down and giving away cherished possessions. I want to focus less on stuff and more on people. So this giveaway is for 10 books plus one little blue journal. Every book is brand new aside from the last one. Here’s your prize pack:

  1. Dirt Cheap Green Thumb
  2. One Minute Meditator
  3. Totally Together: Shortcuts to an Organized Life
  4. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manifesto
  5. Mollie is Three: Growing up in School
  6. More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow
  7. Sharing Sweet Secrets, Gluten and Wheat Free
  8. More Fast Food My Way (Jacques Pepin)
  9. Gourmet Every Day
  10. Easy Food for Utter Indulgence (I bought this book used, but I just loved it, mostly for its decadent title!)

To enter, you *must* leave a comment on this post. For a bonus entry, Like Fed Up With Lunch on FB and tell me in the comments (either in your original comment or make a new comment).

For another bonus entry, sign up for my new newsletter. I will be making some changes around here and starting some new projects…hopefully that is. I need a little person to start sleeping through the night first! I’m still losing some crucial brain cells due to lack of sleep. If you would like to come along for the ride, sign up below. I promise that I will not abuse your inbox. Most likely you will not receive a newsletter more than once every six months!



I will choose one person at random to win everything on July 27th! Thanks everyone!