An Open Letter to President Trump
What I Hope You Do to Keep American School Food Great
Dear Mr. President,
It’s your inauguration day. I woke up with tears at bay and trepidation in my heart, but as your former presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton said, “we need to give the Trump Administration a chance.” Being an eternal optimist, I’m giving you and your administration the chance to do the “right” thing for our children.
In December, the Senate Agriculture Committee announced that Child Nutrition Reauthorization negotiations have ceased, and that this Congress will reach no decision on the fate of federally funded school meals. As a school food advocate of many years, I am disappointed beyond words, and feel compelled to express to you my thoughts and recommendations for moving forward.
The country is divided on many issues, perhaps more divided than ever before, but on this critical point, I hope we can all agree: the key to our nation’s future is our children. They are our greatest national treasure. Day in and day out we must devote ourselves to making sure they lead long and healthy lives, and that their opportunities for success far surpass our own. That’s just the way it’s supposed to work. As a father, I’m sure that, like millions of Americans, you too make the health, happiness, and prosperity of your children a priority.
But if we are to ensure that all our children have futures as bright as that of your own, we must make sure that every child, every day has access to healthy food in America’s schools.
Given the extent of your wealth, it goes without saying that neither you, nor your children have ever known real hunger, never been disoriented from lack of nutrients, or gone to school in yesterday’s clothes because you didn’t have a home. Yet this is the alarming reality for one in five American children. Today, more than 30 million children eat school lunch daily, and over 21 million of those kids come from disadvantaged households, often struggling with food insecurity. As our new President, I call upon you to follow in the footsteps of the previous administration and guarantee that every child will be well fed and cared for at school.
This is not just a matter of social justice or public health. This issue impacts our economic viability. We spend a staggering $1.4 trillion every year on obesity, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that one in three American children is overweight or obese. This generation of kids may be the first in our country’s history to die at a younger age than their parents, in large part due to their poor diets.
These children face increasing risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure—all of which affect their quality of life, their ability to learn, and their opportunity to become successful members of society.
As former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said, “If we want to close the achievement gap—we need to close the nutrition gap.”
You have the power to help reverse this disastrous course. It begins with your reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 without rolling back its improved nutrition standards for school meals. Partisan debate on this issue has caused Congress to delay reauthorizing this vital piece of legislation for over a year. Meanwhile, there are nearly 100,000 schools nationwide still operating without a final rule in place. They need the renewed support of the federal government.
Under the Obamas’ leadership and with the HHFKA, school food has started to become “real” food. More schools are serving locally grown, fresh fruits and vegetables. More school kitchens are cooking meals from scratch with high quality ingredients. And more children are benefiting from daily access to healthy food. We’ve seen a rise in salad bars and other crucial nutrition education programming that is contributing to a healthier generation of kids, but large-scale, systemic change takes time, and needs the commitment of more than just one administration.
President-Elect Trump, I challenge you to keep raising the healthy school food bar by doing the following:
- Ensure that your Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, who has little to no school food experience, is surrounded by experts in school food reform who will continue to make our children’s health a priority.
- Without further delay, pass the Senate Agriculture Committee’s January 2016 reauthorization bill, “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016,” which leaves the HHFKA guidelines almost fully in tact.
- Give us the resources we need to continue the national trend towards scratch cooking with fresh ingredients: increased funding for food cost, school kitchen renovations, staff training, salad bars, farm-to-school efforts, and nutrition education programming.
- Do not let the proposed “Block Grant” pilot program for alternative school food funding, which gambles with the nutrition standards and access our children deserve, move forward.
- Work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the CDC to prioritize a triple bottom line: healthy kids, healthy food, and a healthy earth; emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between all three.
Mr. President, I hope that you take this challenge into consideration as you decide how your food policy will take shape over the next four years. I hope you will support the school food professionals all across the country who believe it should be a birthright in our country that every child, every day has healthy food in school, and that no child is ever hungry.
If we agree that the health, happiness, and prosperity of our children is our priority, then let’s work together to support measures that ensure all of our children are well fed. Let’s continue to make sure that today’s children and their children are healthier and better educated than ever before. Let’s ensure that America remains one of the greatest countries on the planet, because of the health of our nation’s children.
Chef Ann Cooper
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