The #ThanksMichelleObama hashtag made famous by schoolchildren all over social media may have been heavier on the sarcasm than the sincerity, but many of us at Red Rabbit have been in support of the higher nutritional standards for school food, and our meals have managed to stay tasty even while adhering to the higher standards - so it IS possible!
With 23% of New York City children from food-insecure households depending upon school lunches to provide them with at least one nutritious meal each day, the need for strong food standards is less politics, and more dietetics. Why, then, do our food assistance programs continue to find themselves held hostage throughout the legislative process? Shouldn’t the health of our children and the strength of our families be more important than partisan squabbles across the aisles of Congress? What is in store for school food and Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) in 2015?
On Tuesday, 12/16, we attended the seminar 80 Years of Federal Food Assistance Policy: Implications for Child Nutrition Reauthorization in Uncertain Times hosted by the New York City Food Policy Center at Hunter College, and led by Professor Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. Topics covered included the history of food assistance programs in U.S., dating back to the bread lines during the Great Depression of the 1930’s; the role of Big Business and Big Ag in food policy; and what we can do to ensure school food is kept safe from becoming target practice for political fights in the future.
In the seminar, Poppendieck highlighted how food assistance has been big business for decades. From farmers to firms that supply school lunches and the materials needed (ie, lunch trays, utensils, cookware and equipment), to the retailers who accept SNAP and WIC benefits, there are many who stand to gain and lose a lot with the passing of each bill. Many were quite vocal about the newer food restrictions advocated by the First Lady and what was ultimately passed in the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, or HHFA. The most recent spending bill passed by Congress eased some of these restrictions, most notably sodium levels, for the sake of making it easier for schools and vendors to comply with nutrition standards.
Yet the question we ask is, should school food be easy - or should it be good?
Everyone can agree on the importance of a healthy society and reducing rates of heart disease and Type II Diabetes, especially in children. Red Rabbit believes that the earlier we can instill healthy eating habits, the better off we will be as a whole. Kids who are excited about eating their fruits and veggies will turn into adults who are open-minded when it comes to trying new foods, not to mention healthier than their peers who were not encouraged and exposed to a wide variety while they were in school. Sure, french fries are fun finger foods to eat every so often – but should they really be considered part of a nutritionally balanced meal?
If we citizens are concerned about the motivations - whether political in bent, or business, or both - behind changes to the HHFA and continued investment in CNR, and want to be a part of making sure that the strides made in school food are not allowed to fall prey to special interest groups, one thing we can do is follow the NYC Alliance for CNR, a group convened by City Harvest and the Tisch Center at Teachers College Columbia University. They are developing priorities and action plans for advocacy, and people can register as individuals or organizations to participate in their efforts.
At Red Rabbit, we will continue to do our part by providing over 20,000 students each day with our yummy, made-from-scratch breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Our fun and innovative Education Team, led by Director Rebecca Gildiner, will keep developing lessons and labs that will engage and enrich schoolchildren across the city. We love being a part of this ever-growing movement of passionate citizens who seek awareness and access to better nutrition, and we look forward to all that can be accomplished in 2015!
Have a healthy day!
Hayley Lutz, Red Rabbit Customer Care/Program Development