In my last post, I suggested that school lunches are a reflection of our society’s crazy relationship to food. And there is no doubt that evidence for what Michael Pollan has called our “national eating disorder” can be found in many school cafeterias. I stopped by my daughter’s school yesterday at lunch time to see what they were serving, and I felt discouraged. The noodle turkey bowl and cheese pizza options both looked creepy. At least they have a salad bar, and milk.
But just as awareness is growing about food issues in general, people all over the country are trying to change school food into something we actually WANT our children to eat. So far, these efforts are local, occurring mostly by school or district. But they show that change is possible, and provide some great inspiration to parents and others who want to make things better.
Farm to school programs are being started in many communities across the country. These programs connect schools to local farms. Their goals are multifaceted and ambitious. They try to serve healthier meals in cafeterias, improve student nutrition, educate kids about health and nutrition, and support local small farms. The national Farm to School web site is a great source of information about these efforts, and also serves as a registry for Farm to school programs. According to this web site, Farm to School programs have been started in an estimated 1,986 districts in 38 states. If you want to locate programs in your state or region, this is the best place to start.
The Community Food Security Coalition also has a great web site with resources for those interested in starting a Farm to School program. It has information, funding sources, and success stories.
Two other good sources of inspiration are www.betterschoolfood.org, an online community supporting efforts to improve school food in local communities, and The Center for Ecoliteracy’s Rethinking School Lunch project.
Some states are now getting involved in trying to promote healthier school lunches and promote local and organic foods in school cafeterias. The Illinois state Senate passed a ban on trans fats in school lunches recently. California has this restriction in place, and has some of the most far-reaching and ambitious programs anywhere, including Alice Water’s work with the Berkeley schools. Washington recently passed a bill to promote Washington-grown food in schools. And Oregon has hired a renowned chef to head up the State’s Farm to School efforts.
At this point, finding healthy school food that is sustainably grown, supports local farms, and is good to eat is still a rarity. Where it exists, it seems to depend mostly on a highly motivated, inspired person or group. But these people are growing in numbers and strength. Two angry moms have made a film about some of the worst elements of the National School Lunch Program, and the publicity it has generated is amazing. And, in small school districts with less red tape, wonderful things can happen. I know a woman who grows the most wonderful organic apples. She told me that when she has them, the Corvallis school district will buy her smallest apples, and the kids love them. That is the best thing I’ve heard about school lunches in a long time.