Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th / Time for Lunch

Oh, Independence Day. The one day a year where I willingly don the flags colors, on my clothing, and in my food. It doesn’t seem like a statement of politics today, but rather an embrace of another over-the-top holiday consisting mainly of food, drinks, and very loud explosions. Today, though I’d like to ask you, readers, to think about another way in which you can celebrate the holiday with an act perhaps more patriotic than wearing red, white, and blue.

I’d like to invite you all to take a look at the Time for Lunch website. Time for Lunch is a campaign, organized primarily through Slow Food USA, to bring the upcoming review of the Child Nutrition Act to the country’s (and Congress’s) attention. The Child Nutrition Act is a bill that governs how the National School Lunch Program feeds kids in the nation’s public schools. Most importantly, the Child Nutrition Act sets a limit on the amount of money that a school can be reimbursed for the cost of their cafeteria’s food. Right now schools receive only about one dollar (one dollar!) per child per meal. No wonder my memories of school lunch consist of powdered mashed “potatoes,” square rubbery “pizza,” and canned “peaches” (and these foods were served on the best days; I was lucky enough to have a choice to eat school lunch or bring my own. Many children today do not have that privilege). The Child Nutrition Act will come under review this September, and Time for Lunch is asking Congress to consider doubling the amount of reimbursement – from one dollar to two.

In addition, Time for Lunch is advocating for stronger control of the types of additional foods sold in school, like the French fries, cookies, and chicken wings from the “a la carte” line in the cafeteria, as well as items sold in vending machines scattered around many schools’ premises. The presence of these types of food encourage poor eating choices among students – I remember many of my high school friends eating French fries and a cookie for lunch every single day of the week. Why would they want to suffer the inevitable stomach ache and sugar crash from such a diet? Because their parents weren’t there to tell them otherwise.

Finally, Time for Lunch is asking for the continued and increased support of Farm to School programs. In the last year, my high school has added a kitchen garden to its premises (the result of a student-organized senior project) and they will hopefully begin eating from it in the fall. More programs like this are possible, but there needs to be more funding. Apparently, the last time the Child Nutrition Act was reviewed (in 2004), a section was added to provide an unspecified amount of money to schools to hold lessons in local eating and healthy eating, but Congress never appropriated the funds. Time for Lunch is asking Congress to guarantee mandatory funding for programs like the one started at my school.

I know that this might seem like a lot of political advertisement, but I really believe that support of groups like this can do a great deal to improve not only childhood nutrition in this country, but also over-all public school education standards. It is common sense that students will pay attention and learn better when they have a full stomach and proper nutrition. A meal of powdered mashed potatoes or gummy pizza simply does not provide the brain food necessary to be a successful student. It is also common sense that such proper nutrition cannot be provided on a dollar a day.

Take a few minutes today and show your support. Time for Lunch is putting together a petition to show public support for the review of the Child Nutrition Act; all you have to do is sign it. It only takes a minute. You can also check out their Eat-In potluck program that will commence on Labor Day. Find one in your area and get involved. It will be fun, helpful, and, most importantly on a day like today, patriotic.

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