The tomato sauce makes it so, says the U.S. Congress, which sets the nationwide standard for lunches served children in public schools every school day.
Such standards are doing our kids and the health of our nation a lot of harm, according to Fed Up, the documentary shown to a full house on Thursday at the Dairy Center’s Boedecker Theater.
Produced by Katie Couric and Laurie David of An Incovenient Truth, Fed Up promises to change the way you eat forever.
Chef Ann Cooper, nationally known as the Renegade Lunch Lady and Director of Food Services for Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), held a talkback session following the film and talked about what we can do to change this troubling trend.
Not-so-tasty facts about typical school food
Okay, fit Boulder, don’t tune out. This is not just about those who look overweight.
Seventy percent of us–even those who look thin on the outside–face the same health consequences as those who are obese. It all depends on how you eat.
Here are a few more unappetizing Fed Up takeaways:
- Diabetes is at epidemic levels, especially in children.
- Generations of kids will now live shorter lives than their parents.
- Balancing calories in/calories out is not the solution to solving obesity—all calories are not equal.
- The USDA, the watchdog for US School Lunch Standards, also stands guard over the health of the US Agricultural Industry, and the two roles are in conflict.
In short, Fed Up filmmakers conclude that our government is putting corporate profits ahead of the health of our children.
And, the diabetes epidemic culprit is sugar.
Sugar, sweet sugar, how can you be so bad?
Sugar in itself may not be bad. But, too much sugar is beyond bad, it’s harmful.
The typical U.S. diet is loaded with sugar hidden in processed foods. It’s in cereal, juice, ketchup, tomato sauce, low fat foods…if it comes in a package, it’s most likely got sugar.
Soda, of course, is a major meanie in this sugar overabundance syndrome—especially for kids. And, soda has paved a path right into our kids daily lunch. Nationwide, about 80% of public schools have deals with Coke and Pepsi.
Here’s how sugar affects the body: The liver takes this ready source of sugar and with insulin turns the sugar into fat. This continual onslaught of sugar creates a continual need for insulin, which is the diabetes connection.
According to Fed Up producers, here’s the conflict in the government: The USDA has two roles. One, is to set school lunch standards. The other is to promote agriculture. And, the two are at odds and compete. Layer in congress-folk looking out for agricultural and corporate interests and lobbyists for the food industry, and you begin to get the picture painted in Fed Up.
Boulder Valley Schools stay ahead of the curve
Six short years ago, BVSD contracted with Chef Cooper to transform the school lunch program. Her vision–and the transformation she successfully completed in BVSD schools–is for the foods to be whole rather than processed, bought regionally, and prepared from scratch.
Since Chef Cooper took over, students have healthy options galore to choose from across the 11,000 meals served in BVSD each day.
In fact, BVSD serves no soft drinks, French fries, high fructose corn syrup, nor trans fats. Every BVSD school has a salad bar every day and about half the schools have an on-site garden–all on a budget of $1.25 per lunch.
But Chef Cooper and BVSD did not do this alone. A web of organizations helped make this sweeping change in BVSD, and support its yearly continuance and growth. The Growe Foundation, founded by Bryce Winton Brown, fostered the development of the School Food Project, a fundraising partnership, and the Garden to Table program that now has gardens in more than half of the schools in BVSD.
Garden to Table thriving in BVSD
Today, Growe Foundation operates 17 Garden to Table programs in BVSD, across 5 cities. The program reaches over 7,250 students and the gardens grow a variety of vegetables, including carrots, kale, tomatoes, chard and kohlrabi.
“Kids need to know that food comes from dirt, and that strawberries don’t grow in a package. Our school gardens are 100% about education,” said Chef Cooper.
Also, notes Chef Cooper, “If the children grow it or cook it, they will eat it.”
Changing the culture of food
According to Chef Cooper and experts featured in Fed Up, to really make progress, our culture of food has to change.
“We have to change the notion that food has to be consumable while walking or driving. And, we have to stop eating processed foods and eat a plant-based diet loaded with fruits and vegetables,” said Chef Cooper.
“It would help if grade school students had more than 15 or 20 minutes to eat lunch,” noted Chef Cooper.
What’s the solution?
“If everyone does one thing it will make a difference,” said Chef Cooper.
Examples she points to are:
- Eat more meals at home
- Make sure your school has a garden and a salad bar
- Cook for yourself, your family, your friends
“I’d like to see food literacy in schools and for medical professionals,” said Chef Cooper. She added that elementary students are likely to eat what you put in front of them, while middle and high school students need their actions to be more internally driven.
But, change is needed on a corporate and governmental level, too.
“The USDA and FDA need to mandate labeling the percentages of sugar on food labels,” said Cooper.
But, that could be a long time in coming. After all, this would come from the same governmental body that proclaimed pizza to be a vegetable, by virtue of a smear of tomato sauce.
“Never mind,” says Chef Cooper, “that the tomato is a fruit.”
If you’d like to put some muscle behind this effort, attend one of these upcoming fundraisers for Garden to Table. You’re guaranteed to have a good time while making a difference in the health of Boulder Valley kids.
Fish to Farm Five Course Dinner hosted by Isabelle Farm and five of Jax’s Fish House top Executive chefs – 9/6/14
Jack Johnson and his All At Once campaign matches donations to Growe Foundation, up to a total of $2,500, at Red Rocks – 8/16/14