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The Time to Take Action

from the desk of Chef Ann Cooper

Healthy school food has been part of the national debate for the past six years, but this week the level of partisan politics is showcased in The New York Times Magazine article, “How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground.” In our school food drama, the School Nutrition Association, the Obama administration, lobbyists, pizza, French fries and ketchup all play leading roles. Somehow our children have become the pawns in this political rhetoric. And there will surely be only one winner (industry’s bottom line) and the loser (the health of America’s children).

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) became law in 1946 as a response to the discovery that a large number of military recruits were malnourished. Ironically, almost 70 years later retired military leaders have established Mission Readiness to ensure that the obesity crisis doesn’t become a new National Security Crisis by limiting the number of recruits not too fat to fight. Our children are at risk of obesity and diet related diseases of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. School food can be the first line of defense in this crisis.

The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010 laid out a plan of attack, but, alas, profit is being put above the health of our children as advocacy groups, corporations and politicians push for a moratorium on implementing the USDA guidelines under HHFKA. Groups like the School Nutrition Association putting forth that the changes are too quick and too costly, and many are saying that the kids won’t eat the food. Some high schools are dropping out of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) because they need the profit from selling junk food to kids to pay for everything from footballs to computers. We need to stop this madness. We, as a nation, need to let our elected officials know that the health of our children is the most important thing. The mid-term elections are only weeks away and we all need to Do One Thing for the health of our children!

And what’s the one thing we should be doing? Demanding that the HHFKA be fully implemented, and that we don’t push back the implementation. We need to invest in education, training, technical assistance and marketing to help school districts segue from highly-processed foods to scratch-cooked ones. We need to help all school districts to feed all of our children fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole grains, and healthy proteins. We need to ensure that all children have access to salad bars, school gardens, and food education (food literacy), so that all of our children can have an equal opportunity to live long and healthy lives and make the most of their education. We know that hungry kids can’t think and malnourished kids can’t learn.

So I want to throw down the gauntlet and challenge all of us to put partisan politics, bottom-line profit, and personal promotion aside and stand up for the health of our children! Just do one thing and tell our elected officials:

  • to hold strong to the HHFKA as written,
  • to support schools all across the country as they work to feed our children the healthiest possible food, and
  • to support school districts by making resources available for education, marketing, training and equipment.

Do one thing to assure the health of our children, before there’s nothing we can do to save them.

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