Tag Archives: school lunch in USA

The global kitchen

A chilly view from the high line

A chilly view from the High Line

I spent this past weekend on a mini vacation in New York City walking and exploring and eating, as well as talking about food with school lunch and food justice (super)hero, Jan Poppendieck, who wrote the brilliant Sweet Charity? about the failures of food banking, and the more recent (and equally brilliant) Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.

The weekend was a literal smorgasbord of fun, food and inspiration. One of the surprise highlights was stumbling on the new food exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Called Our Global Kitchen, it uses multimedia, display, historical objects, diaroma and even taste tests to bring to life the complexity of our food system, the future of food (think seaweed, bugs and less meat) and the joys of eating together. There’s a chance to sit at a table with a Roman aristocrat, see an ancient Aztec marketplace and cook up various recipes on an interactive table/screen.

our global kitchenCurated by the Center for Biodiversity Conservation, the exhibit pulls no punches about the challenges of feeding a projected 9 billion people by 2050 or the profound problems with current industrial agricultural practices.

Considering the equivocating I seem to read in the media about this (as if it’s still sane to question climate change or the failures of the so-called green revolution to feed the world), I was delighted to see how matter of fact the exhibit is. This is science, baby.

I can’t wait to read my friend Sarah Elton’s upcoming book, Consumed: Sustainable Food for a Finite Planet for more on this subject.

(For teachers and educators who can’t make it to New York before the show closes in August, there are downloadable teaching resources for all grades that touch on issues in the food system like biodiversity, the supply chain and trade, hunger and diet-related health issues. The resources are pegged to the exhibit itself but there are lots of ideas about how to bring these topics into the classroom.)

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What’s on The Lunch Tray?

Bettina Elias Siegel is a former lawyer, writer and host at the must-read American blog about kids and food (“in school and out”) called The Lunch Tray. She has been a fearless crusader for healthier school meals for several years, and was the brains behind the successful petition to the USDA to get rid of pink slime (fatty beef trimmings treated with ammonium hydroxide and added as filler to ground beef—yuck!) in the meat served in American schools.

I always enjoy her smart and nuanced writing and thinking about kids and food issues—especially her unapologetic defense of equity in the cafeteria—but I also appreciate that she sometimes blogs about what she’s feeding her family. School food is that kind of issue: the personal really is political.

So, of course, I was honoured and delighted when Bettina asked to interview me about What’s for Lunch? Here’s an excerpt from the Q &A after the jump. To read the whole thing, please visit The Lunch Tray. In fact, visit The Lunch Tray anyway.

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School lunch matters

With the recent publication of What’s for Lunch? I’ve been talking a lot about the potential for school lunch to transform schools and communities. I thought I’d try to express some of those possibilities in an easy-to-digest infographic ready for sharing. Please feel free to share, and let others know about the power of food.

Many thanks to Oliver Sutherns who designed and stick-handled the infographic from idea to reality!

Embed this image on your site:

<a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com/the-blog/school-lunch-matters/"><img src="http://unpackingschoollunch.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/school-lunch-infographic1.jpg" alt="School Lunch Matters Infographic" border="0" /></a><br />Brought to you by <a href="http://unpackingschoollunch.wordpress.com">Andrea Curtis</a>


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In (some) stores now!

It’s always an exciting day when the postie brings a package, but receiving this box of the first copies of What’s for Lunch? was especially thrilling. It looks amazing, with Yvonne Duivenvoorden’s photos and Sophie Casson’s illustrations making the pages sing.

I’ll be promoting and launching the book in the fall for back to school but in the meantime, you can find it in certain stores now (also here) or you can preorder online from here or here and have it delivered to your door. (The book will be launched in the U.S. in November.)

Watch here for details about where I’ll be talking about lunch and what kids are saying.

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School lunch rules

The big news in lunch this week was the USDA released its new standards for school meals. Pizza will still be considered a vegetable and the french fry lobby maintained its hold on the list of acceptable foods (and still isn’t happy that “the potato is being downplayed,” reports the New York Times), but according to observers like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, these new standards are the best ever, representing “one of the most important advancements in nutrition in decades.”

New nutrition standards: does that mean no more Frito pie?

The USA will now join countries around the world that offer healthy guidelines for school meals.

Salt will be limited, no trans fats allowed, kids will be offered a wider variety of fruits and veg, milk will be low fat and whole grains are prioritized. School lunch providers will get an additional six cents per school lunch in order to achieve these new standards. (USA Today offers a few more details here.)

It’s about time.

But the fight for healthy school lunches is not over. The new standards will be phased in over time, there will no doubt be food companies looking for ways to cut costs, and the amount provided per meal may simply not be enough in the first place. Vigilance is necessary.

Check out Bettina Elias Siegel‘s always excellent analysis at The Lunch Tray for more on the Good, Bad and Ugly of the new standards. I also thought Mrs. Q., of Fed Up with School Lunch fame, did a nice job expressing how parents can help improve school lunch in her babble.com column.

Incidentally, Mrs. Q. posted an interesting piece about lunch ladies. Seems the staff of Chicago school cafeterias were actually asked what they think about school lunch. More evidence of their makeover, methinks.

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Lunch lady makeover

For years, in movies and books, the lunch lady was a symbol of all that was wrong with school (and school lunch). They were the kids’ version of the Russian character in almost every North American movie from the 1950s to 1990s—shorthand for villain.  (Now you know someone’s bad in an adult movie if they smoke cigarettes.)

A (very) quick search uncovered book titles ranging from Killer Lunch Lady to Revenge of the Lunch Ladies to Attack of the Mutant Lunch Lady and Help! I’m Trapped in my Lunch Lady’s Body.

Those poor lunch ladies couldn’t get a break—as if they were solely responsible for the nasty food served in so many school cafeterias.

Now that school lunch is being reclaimed—not least by the self-proclaimed “Renegade Lunch Lady” herself, Ann Cooper—the ladies of the lunchroom are faring slightly better in the world of pop culture.

Take the Fly Guy series, one of my 7-year-old son’s favourites.

These hilarious and  easy-to-read books follow a pair of googly-eyed friends, one a boy (Buzz), the other a fly (Fly Guy). Fly Guy loves garbage soup, piles of dirt, smelly mops and dirty dishes, and the pair have many icky adventures over the 10 books in the series. In Super Fly Guy, our little hero finds happiness in the lunchroom.

At first, it seems like the lunch lady hates him, but the good woman is swayed by his intelligence and feeds him chicken bones and fish heads in sour milk (served with a straw). Her boss, however, isn’t pleased that she’s entertaining flies in the lunchroom and fires her. Everyone is sad since the lunch lady was actually a good cook!

There’s also a graphic novel series for older readers about a superhero Lunch Lady—”serving justice and serving lunch”!—by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Named 3rd and 4th Grade books of the year in 2010 and 2011 at the Children’s Choice Awards, the series is reportedly being made into a live action movie with Amy Poehler. This lunch lady fights cyborg substitutes, evil authors and swamp monsters using only her wits, food gadgets (a banana boomerang, a lunch tray laptop) and floods of sloppy joe mix.

From super villain to superhero, the ladies who (make) lunch have truly had a makeover. Now if school lunch itself could only get the same super treatment…

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Pizza is a vegetable and other fables from the school food industry

Photograph by Yvonne Duivenvoorden, an early peek at my upcoming book, What's for Lunch?

Don’t miss the scathing must-read New York Times Sunday Review piece by Lucy Komisar about how the food industry is making American kids “fat and sick” while raking in profits. Here’s an excerpt:

“One-third of children from the ages of 6 to 19 are overweight or obese. These children could see their life expectancies shortened because of their vulnerability to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately, profit, not health, is the priority of the food service management companies, food processors and even elected officials. Until more parents demand reform of the school lunch system, children will continue to suffer.”

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When bake sales go bad

When I was in high school, I survived on cottage cheese, canned pineapple, diet cola and greasy (but surprisingly delicious) chocolate chip cookies from the school cafeteria (with the occasional bag of doritos and/or french fries from the same). Even just reading that over, I feel a little sick to my stomach. What was with all that cottage cheese? I must have read in one of those magazines I scoured to find out what being a woman was all about that cottage cheese is low-cal. Today I can’t even look at the stuff. Ditto with diet cola (or any form of faux sugar). I sometimes drank 8 cans a day. When it’s discovered someday that synthetic sweeteners are the root of all evil, I’ll know for certain what caused my downfall.

Our school cafeteria was one of those places you wouldn’t be surprised to see turning up in a John Hughes movie—snarling, underpaid, underappreciated lunch ladies in hair nets and grease-splattered tunics, surly, pimple-faced teenagers (with very bad hair—it was the 1980s) dividing the room into Jocks, Geeks and Stoners.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe we made it out alive. Really.

I’ve been thinking about that cafeteria this fall, partly because of the big stink in the U.S. about Congress arguing pizza should be considered a vegetable in school lunch (egad—see the startling story about how corporate food companies are driving this here), and partly because the province of Ontario introduced a new healthy food policy that changes the kinds of food and drinks that can be purchased in schools.

At my kids’ school—which does not offer either a snack or a meal, it mostly means fewer cupcakes, cookies on a stick and doughnuts for sale in the lobby before 9 a.m. (Bake sales aren’t banned entirely, the number of times they can be offered per year has just been limited.)

But in cafeterias (like the one at my old high school), it has been a pretty radical shift. Foods with “few or no essential nutrients and/or contain high amounts of fat, sugar and/or sodium” are not allowed to be sold—no deep fried french fries, for instance. Other, not so healthy items, are allowed occasionally, and healthy options are recommended for regular consumption.

Despite the fact that I managed to survive my own unhealthy teenage eating experience, I think this is a great advance. (And anyway, when was the fact that I survived such and such a thing an intelligent basis for an argument anyway? You could smoke in bars, restaurants, airplanes and your workplace, then, too, and no one’s arguing smoking isn’t actually so bad for you.)

There are some parent and teachers grumbling that the new policy is making it harder to raise money for classrooms, but I think this is simply because change is difficult. People have relied on bake sales for a long time, but there are surely lots of ways to raise funds that don’t rely on jacking kids up on sweets before the bell rings.

Whenever I’m thinking or talking about this subject, I always return to the fact that if we want children to learn about healthy eating habits, we have to be consistent, and feeding them junk at school (in the cafeteria or elsewhere) sends the absolute wrong message. You can’t teach them about nutrition in health class and then ply them with greasy pizza and french fires in the cafeteria. And if educational institutions don’t commit to being consistent in their teaching (and surely teaching in a general sense continues in the cafeteria), how can we expect kids to make sense of any of this?

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School garden inspiration

Guest post by Nick Saul, The Stop Community Food Centre

When it comes to school gardens, The Edible Schoolyard gets all the attention.

And after my trip to California this past week to take part in the American Community Food Security Coalition conference, including a tour of Alice Waters’ brainchild, I can say it definitely lives up to the hype. The grounds are beautiful and interesting, with an integrated garden and kitchen, chickens, a bake oven and what looks like ample resources.edible schoolyard 2But we also made a pitstop in Oakland at a place called the Cleveland School. It’s a school that serves a very diverse community and doesn’t have the star power of a celebrity chef behind it, but they’ve managed to create quite an amazing little oasis on a relatively small amount of land.

The story we were told on our tour is that at her job interview a teacher told the principal that the yard was really, well, ugly. The principal shrugged and said, whaddaya want to do about it?

cleveland school 1The answer was this amazing outdoor classroom. With the help of parents, kids, teachers as well as interns from AmeriCorps and Berkeley’s Center for Ecoliteracy, they now have a program that includes science and math as well as health and sustainable living. Kids enjoy regular taste testings and garden-related festivalsincluding Vegetable Soup Day, Harvest Festival and Little Red Hen Day. The gardens are mostly tended after school but teachers spend quite a bit of time outdoors with their students. During the summer, Family Farmers are provided with a training session and take care of the plot.

cleveland 2I was especially struck by the quantity and quality of the signage they have all over the schoolyard. It is fun and informative and makes sense of the garden for both outsiders and the kids who read/see them everyday.

cleveland school 3cleveland school 5I was also intrigued by the sun clock painted on the pavement. Sun clocks are human sundials, which use a person’s own shadow to tell the time. (There’s a company in the U.K. that will do all the complex measurements required to set it up for your school’s longitude and latitude.) I imagine that the kids love trying it out, and there are also tons of teaching applications.

cleveland 6 But the best part to me is that this whole project started out so simply and has become such a big part of the school. A very inspiring place.

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What’s on your plate?

Here’s another great resource for teachers and parents looking to get kids talking about healthy food and the food system. The documentary, What’s on your plate? and accompanying book follow two 11-year-old girls as they “explore their place in the food chain.”

Best friends Sadie and Safiyah meet farmers, talk to food activists, storekeepers, their families and each other about what they eat—and what that means for their bodies, their health, community and the planet. The girls are funny and curious, and I think kids will gladly travel along on their journey.

(The web site also has some downloadable games and links to other projects that engage children with the food system.)

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