Today I participated in the Time for Lunch nationwide eat-in. This fall, Congress will be voting on the Child Nutrition Act, the bill that provides for the National School Lunch Program. One of the more sobering things I learned today was that the USDA currently reimburses the School Lunch Program a mere $2.57 for each student receiving a free lunch. Of that pitiful little sum, only about a dollar goes to buying food for our children. One dollar! Crunched for cash, our cafeteria managers have little choice but to buy the cheapest foods they can find. Most of us know however, that while these foods may be cheap in their upfront costs, they are extremely costly when one begins to factor in future health care costs from treating the obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure caused by eating these foods. It saddens me greatly that in a country where we can find the money to bailout irresponsible corporations or help people buy new cars, we can’t seem to find the money to feed our children decent, nutritious food.
During the eat-in today, I helped people write letters to their senators and representatives to ask them to approve the Child Nutrition Act and to appropriate an extra dollar per student per day to spend on real food. By spending a little more now, we can give our children real, nutritious foods that will actually help them learn better and grow stronger. Some schools have even found that behavior problems decrease when children are fed whole foods instead of food-like substances that contain a plethora of preservatives and additives, which have recently been linked to various hyperactivity disorders. By changing how we feed our kids, we can also have a drastic affect on rising health care costs- an urgent issue. Currently, one in four American children are obese. Study after study has shown that children are at an increased risk of just about everything as they get older, but especially chronic, degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. As these kids get older and start developing these conditions at earlier ages, it can only mean one thing- a COLOSSAL increase in health care spending. In comparison, a dollar per student per day is much less costly.
We also campaigned today to have Congress finally appropriate money for the Farm to School initiative that would help get locally grown, fresh foods in to our schools. This food may come from the farmer down the street, or may even be grown in a garden at the school by the students themselves. What a wonderful, multi-purpose learning lab! A schoolyard garden could do double duty as an interactive biology lab. With a little creativity, students could also use such a garden to learn about art, literature or even math! Most of all, they could learn about how to feed themselves for a lifetime. “But kids hate vegetables!” you say. When the Obamas planted a garden on the White House lawn this year, Michele Obama observed that the fifth graders who helped her tend to it were much more interested in eating vegetables and trying new ones when they had grown them themselves. Maybe we could get really crazy and teach school child how to cook vegetables properly so they are tasty and appelling!
In the event that a schoolyard garden isn’t possible, or cannot supply the needs of the entire school’s lunch program, with the help of local farmers, we could get fresh produce into our student’s lunches. Not only does this support the health of our students, but it supports the health of our local economies by keeping money in our local communities. And of course, we need to support our farmers because No Farms = No Food. It’s a win-win, but these programs needs funding to get started. Once rolling, they could be designed to be largely self-sufficient. Congress has actually approved this initiative, but without appropriating any funding for it, it lanquishes in a Pergatory so to speak.
Even though the eat-in was today, the campaign is far from over. It really takes very little time to go to www.house.gov or www.senate.gov, look up your representatives and give them a call. Or send them an email. If you really want to make it clear to them that you care about this issue, write them an old-fashioned letter. (hint: send it to their local office instead of their Washington D.C. office as there are less restrictions and therefore more chance of your letter getting to the hands of the people who will act on it- quickly.) Please take the time to do this today for the sake of our children and their future.
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