One of my favorite bumper stickers says: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” No one likes to feel angry, but Jean Shinoda Bolen, psychiatrist, author and activist, explains how our feelings of outrage are “really based on love.” “If we feel outraged,” she says, “then something is being harmed that matters to you.”
That’s how I feel about the never-ending stream of junk food advertising targeting our children. Beyond TV, movies and computer games, our kids fall prey to marketers even in their school cafeterias, playgrounds, and textbooks.
In the recent HBO series, “The Weight of the Nation,” obesity experts point to one of the main reasons Americans eat so poorly: “the ubiquity of low-priced, unhealthy foods and their promotion… “ [emphasis mine].
Yet obesity has become one of the most serious threats to our nation’s health, and our children face the greatest cost – a lifespan shorter than their parents’ – if we don’t take action.
Consider this: A child born in 2000 has a one in three lifetime chance of having obesity-related (Type- 2) diabetes. If that child is African-American or Latino, it’s one in two. Something’s got to change. And our nation’s schools have been identified by the Institute of Medicine and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as playing a key strategic role for obesity prevention.
Unfortunately, too many of our nation’s schools suffer from budget constraints and administrative leaders who may not fully understand the high price of cheap food. However, rather than asking if we can afford to feed our children “well,” we should be asking: how can we afford not to?
Here’s where parents can be a powerful source for positive change. But how do we get started?
Amy Kalafa, filmmaker (Two Angry Moms) and author of Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health, shares her personal experience and those of other school food change agents, explaining how to turn anger into positive action.
Kalafa’s opening quote sets the tone for her book: “You have much more power when you are working for the right thing than when you are working against the wrong thing.” – Mildred Lisette Norman, AKA Peace Pilgrim
If you’re looking for inspirational reading, pick up a copy of Kalafa’s book and start the conversation. Improving the school food environment requires all hands on deck to tackle the tough food policies and media culture in which our children swim. Let’s work together to help schools become the heart of child health.
Below is a simple school food assessment screening and tips for making smart change:
1. Assess food quality. Review the school lunch menu with your child and eat in the cafeteria. Is the food appealing? What’s missing that you’d like to see offered? Is there a fresh salad bar at your child’s school? Is any of the food local and organic?
2. Get to know and appreciate your child’s school cafeteria staff. What are their greatest challenges for serving healthier food? Work together for change.
3. How much time does your child have to eat?
4. Are there any commercial intrusions (soft drink machines, competing branded junk foods, advertising, TV in the cafeteria?
5. Are water fountains working and has the water been tested for safety? Do children use refillable water bottles?
6. Is there waste recycling and composting?
7. Walk around the school grounds. Is there space for an organic garden or raised beds? Consider the cost savings from growing instead of mowing!
8. Evaluate school fundraiser alternatives. Sell organic garden seeds, supplies, plants or produce instead of candy.
9. Build an all-inclusive, cooperative community environment and keep your eye on the prize: healthier kids.
10. Use social media to tell your school lunch story, and keep your community informed about the health-protecting benefits of organic food and farming.
Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood
Weight of the Nation, HBO series: http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/films
Lunch Wars: www.angrymoms.org
The Lunch Box: Healthy Tools to Help All Schools: www.thelunchbox.org
Slowing Down Fast Food: A Policy Guide for Healthier Kids and Families
Food Sleuth Radio interview with Amy Kalafa, 6-14-12 on www.kopn.org and 6-18-12 on Public Radio Exchange